Thursday, July 29, 2010

ADA Is 20

From USA Today:
"Americans with Disabilities Act turns 20"

As the nation marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Monday, a new survey finds that the law has not made meaningful progress in improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.
Many social and economic gaps still exist between the 54 million Americans with disabilities and those without, according to a survey conducted by the Kessler Foundation/National Organization on Disability. The report found that the disabled still lag in key areas such as employment, access to health care and socializing.The survey shows that more must be done to help people with disabilities get ahead, said Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability."While education has improved considerably, joblessness has not. We as a nation must figure this out," she said.

Some key findings from the survey:

• 19% of people with disabilities said they did not get the medical care they needed in the past year, with lack of insurance coverage cited as the top reason.

• 21% of disabled working-age Americans had a job in the past year, versus 59% for those without disabilities.

• 17% of people with disabilities have not graduated from high school, compared to 22% in 2000 and 40% in 1986 — the first year the survey was taken.

• 48% of people with disabilities eat out at a restaurant twice a month, compared to 75% of those without disabilities.

• 34% of disabled people say inadequate transportation is a problem, compared to 16% of those without disabilities, a gap that has widened 5 percentage points since 1986.

Meanwhile, a different survey looking at the impact of the law on the disabled community came to a more positive conclusion. This online survey, released Friday and created by Lex Frieden, one of the crafters of the original law who is now a professor of biomedical informatics with the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, found that two-thirds of people with disabilities feel the law has been the most significant influence on their lives in the past two decades. The respondents added that the greatest improvements have come in areas that include access for the disabled to public places, transportation and public awareness.

Signed into law in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with physical or mental disabilities from discrimination. A disability is defined as any condition that impairs one or more major life activities, and the law was expanded in 2008 to include chronic health conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy and cancer.

Glazer said programs like Social Security, which pays cash and health benefits to people with disabilities who cannot work and earn less than $1,000 a month, discourages the disabled from re-entering the workforce. "We have to fix this system so people with disabilities can go back to work, whether it's temporary, part-time or full-time, without fear of immediately losing their safety net." One bright spot in the survey is political participation, where the gap appeared to close completely in the 2008 presidential election season. In the survey, 59% of both disabled and non-disabled people say they voted. In other election years, such as 1996 and 2000, the gap was higher. President Barack Obama included a disability platform in his campaign, which likely influenced voting rates, Glazer noted. Obama's initiatives include health reform, which will give the disabled better access to affordable health care, adding more workers with disabilities to the federal government workforce, and extending tax credits to businesses that do the same. Even with this push from Washington, D.C., the majority of those in the disability community isn't convinced that the ADA has had an impact. In the survey, 61% said the law has not made a difference in their lives. Another 23% said the ADA has made a positive impact, and 4% said it has made their lives worse.

"I do not think the ADA has helped all that much," said Michael Saggese, 32, an account executive at TecAccess, a Rockville, Va.-based information technology firm. Saggese has limited movement in his body and uses a wheelchair as the result of a traumatic brain injury he sustained in a car accident. He said he had difficulty finding a job after college, and landed his current role through a counselor at the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services, who helped him network with TecAccess. Though the survey included participants of all ages, the younger generation — particularly those who grew up with the ADA — is more likely to embrace it, says Rodger DeRose, president and CEO of Kessler Foundation, a nonprofit that funds rehabilitation research and employment programs. "Acceptance of people with disabilities is far greater today. Younger people have adapted to the social changes brought about by the ADA that an older generation has had difficulty with." For Eric Wright, 25, the ADA has been a factor for almost his entire life. He was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get to his job at the Internal Revenue Service in Washington, D.C., where he helps the agency comply with federal requirements for making the agency's electronic and information technology accessible to the disabled. Wright participated in individual education plans (IEPs) throughout grade school, and in college he used a note taker in classes and was given extra time on tests because it took him longer to type. "There was never a point in my life where, if you saw me outside my home, that you wouldn't know I had a disability," Wright said. "But, thanks to the ADA, the people around me — including my family, teachers and employers — knew that I shouldn't be excluded from a normal life." Disability activists are hoping to use the anniversary to encourage more collaboration between business, government and nonprofits, with a goal of bringing more education and job opportunities to the disability community. "As these two areas improve, other quality-of-life indicators are sure to follow," Glazer said.

^ The ADA has done a lot to help give people with mental and physical disabilities the opportunity to do the same thing as people without disabilities. Not only is it illegal to discriminate against a disability, but it has given people access to countless opportunities (jobs, museums, buildings, public transportation, etc) that were unheard of just 2 decades ago. I am not saying that the ADA is perfect or that it doesn't need to be expanded, but it has really helped bring awareness to every American - disabled or not. ^

Another Death Camp Guard

From Yahoo News:
"Gruesome charges detailed against suspected Nazi"

I have to say that I am impressed with how the younger generation of Germans are handling those who helped or were Nazis themselves. For years the German Government looked the other way as thousands of former death camp guards and other Nazis lived openly. Nowadays the older, more pro-Nazi Germans in Government are being replaced by open-minded young Germans who want to bring these people to justice - regardless of their age. This man is charged with being a guard at a death camp and helping to murder around 430,000 people in its gas chambers. I can only hope that this trend (the young Germans working to bring all Nazi criminals to justice) continues. It will continue to show the world that Germany is a changed country that no longer praises the Nazis or their methods - as many post-war Germans continued to do.

Boy Scouts: 100 Years

From Yahoo News:
"Scouts to celebrate 100th anniversary in Virginia"

Even though the Boy Scouts have had some problems recently I still think it is a good organization that helps teach young boys and teenagers how to think for themselves, how to handle difficult situations and how to make friends. I was a Boy Scout and for the most part really liked the skills and challenges I encountered.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Singing Revolution (2006)

I just saw this documentary about how the people of Estonia "fought" the ethnic Russians and the Soviets to regain their independence. The film said that singing has helped Estonians to survive under the many different foreign occupiers (the Russians, Germans and Soviets) throughout their history.
When the Soviets made a pact with the Nazis and invaded Estonia (along with Latvia, Lithuania, parts of Poland and Moldova) they - the Soviets - arrested and deported thousands to Siberian Gulags. Then from 1941-1944 the Nazis occupied the country (killing and arresting many others.) The Soviets came back in 1944 and stayed until 1991. They continued their arrests and deportations and also used a policy of Russification to bring the Russian language, views on socialism/communism and ethnic Russians to Estonia. In 1940 ethnic Russians made up around 1% of the population of Estonia and in 1991 it was 40%.
The Estonians used their singing to help promote Estonian culture, language and history and to bring ordinary Estonians to defy (non-violently) the Soviet Communist Central Government in Moscow. Unlike in Latvia and Lithuania, where the Soviets sent in the military and used weapons against innocent people (Estonia came very close to the same violence,)but thanks in part to Boris Yeltsin defeating the August 1991 Communist Coup in Moscow Estonia regained its independence without violence - hence the name: "The Singing Revolution."
There was some footage in the film where a reporter is asking an ethnic Russian in Estonia about why she is demonstrating to keep the Soviet Union and she said that it was because the "Estonians are very sly people who will be nice to you in your face and stab you in your back." Apparently, that woman does not know anything about Russian or Soviet history (where ethnic Russians have enjoyed countless privileges throughout the Russian Empire and the USSR.)Plus she was in Estonian territory (the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic) and showed both the world and Estonians how arrogant ethnic Russians in the Soviet Union really were - although I'm sure the Estonians already knew that. If she didn't like it she could have always moved back to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.
There was also some footage where Interfront (an ethnic Russian group in Estonia) tried to storm the Estonian Parliament and arrest all the pro-independence Estonians inside. The Estonian Prime Minister went on the air and told the people what was happening and within minutes thousands of ordinary Estonians came to the Parliament building. The Russians were trapped inside while thousands of Estonians surrounded them. In the end, the Estonians let the Russians leave the building with no blood being shed. This shows the true characteristics of both groups. The ethnic Russians became violent for no reason and wanted to use violence to get their goals while the Estonians were calm and collected and used non-violent methods to achieve their goals. That part of the film was the most dramatic for me.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Black Man Elected In Russia

From Yahoo News:
"A Russian milestone: 1st black elected to office"

I am surprised that a black man was elected in Russia. No matter what the officials say Russia is very racist. The USSR was very racist too - although Communist propaganda tried to hide that fact. A Soviet Internal Passport had a person's nationality on line 5 (ie Russian, Uzbek, Jewish, etc) and that helped officials discriminate against non-Russians. The Russian Internal Passport no longer has a line 5 (since all of them are supposed to be Russian citizens.)I have seen the raise of Neo-Nazis in Russia and have seen news reports on foreigners - especially blacks and Asians - being beaten and killed. The fact that a town in Russia elected the first black official shows some change. I don't think racism will go away in Russia anytime soon. The country still has many internal problems that need to be addressed before people stop taking out their anger on foreigners. I should say that I never experienced any racism or anti-foreigner abuse. Of course I am white and from the West. In fact my time in Russia (especially in Yaroslavl) made me very popular among Russians. Strangers would even stop me in the street and invite me to their home so their relatives could meet me. When they saw I spoke Russian - although with a thick accent - they became even more friendly. I never went to their homes, but my experiences over there made me a mini-star. What a culture shock it was when I came back to the US and no one cared anymore.

Belfast Diary

This book is about an American who goes to Belfast in the 1980s and covers the Troubles from a local perspective. While the author tried to stay neutral in his book it was clearly pro-Catholic (he even states that he is Catholic.) I guess only a Jewish person can be neutral about Northern Ireland. In fact, the author tells a drunk woman that he is an American Jew when she asks him if he is Protestant or Catholic. It was a good memoir of the author's stay in Belfast, but I wouldn't call it un-biased.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Making Sense Of The Troubles

This book (by David McKittrick and David McVea) shows the true side of the Northern Ireland Conflict. It is not one-sided in its viewpoint, but shows the good and the bad of all those involved. It was first published in 2000 (after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement came into effect) and while the data stops around 2000 the authors do state that they don't believe the anger has gone away from those involved.
The book gives a well-rounded summary of the Troubles (that started around 1969) as well as the background history so the reader can fully understand the conflict.
After reading this book I have concluded that many people at many levels are to blame for the violence in Northern Ireland. The British Government allowed Irish Protestants to openly discriminate against Irish Catholics for decades. The Irish Catholics were denied basic human rights. When the real violence started in the late 1960s the British Military was sent in. At first the Irish Catholics saw them as a buffer to the Irish Protestants and that the Military's presence would stop the violence. Unfortunately, the British Military was not sent to Northern Ireland to stop the violence but to stop the Irish Catholics from protesting. This made the Irish Catholics turn against the British Military. The British Government and their Military could have stopped the violence that would come over the next 30 years (both in Northern Ireland, Ireland and the mainland of the United Kingdom) had they gone to Northern Ireland and stopped both the Irish Catholics and the Irish Protestants from fighting each other.
The Irish Protestants did not want to give the Irish Catholics even the basic needs of human survival. Had the Irish Protestants agreed to power sharing and inter-religious committees they could have stopped the deadly fighting. Instead they elected leaders that actively discriminated against and ordered the killings of Irish Catholics. The Irish Protestants saw themselves like the Nazis (they were superior while the Irish Catholics were the "sub-humans" that needed to be dealt with.)
The Irish Catholics had their backs to the walls for centuries. At first it was all the Catholics in Ireland that were openly discriminated against by the English/British and then after 1920 it was only those in Northern Ireland. The Irish Catholics were denied a way to legally provide for their families and so they did what any discriminated group has a right to - they used non-violent protests to gain basic civil rights. Those non-violent protests turned into deadly battles mainly because the British Government looked the other way as the Irish Protestants and the British Military worked to destroy the Irish Catholics.
It is sad to say but the only real reason the British finally changed their stance on Northern Ireland was because of the 9-11 and the numerous bombings of the mainland UK.
Today, after all the decades of bloody violence there is an official peace between all the members involved. While I hope this peace continues to hold I know the anger by all those affected by the Troubles is still there, just on the surface, that has a chance to boil into more violence.
I do not see Northern Ireland reuniting with the Republic of Ireland anytime soon. First, there needs to be many years of no organized violence on any group and the people (especially the children) need to learn that there is more to do in this world than throw bombs or shoot people. Once a full generation grows up with that knowledge then I think there will be a real lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

60 Years Of German Jewish Council

From Deutsche Welle:
"Central Council for Jews in Germany celebrates 60 successful years"

The Central Council for Jews in Germany is celebrating 60 years of its existence. They claim to represent over 100,000 Jews in Germany. This is a far cry from Germany's pre-World War 2 Jewish population, but the Holocaust and emigration after the war brought the numbers to an all-time low. Today the Council has moved the German Jews from the ruins of the death camps to being a key player in the European Union. The majority of Jews currently living in Germany are from the former Soviet Union (who came to Germany under the "Right of Return.") Many people consider the council to be the moral authority of the Holocaust, but I think that title goes to Yad Vashem in Israel.,,5810878,00.html

ICJ Approves Kosovo

From the BBC:
"Kosovo independence not illegal, says UN court"

22 July 2010 Kosovo independence not illegal, says UN court Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 did not break international law, top UN judges have ruled in a non-binding decision. The International Court of Justice rejected Serbian claims that the move had violated its territorial integrity. Kosovo officials said all doubt about its status had now been removed, but Serbia's president insisted Belgrade would never recognise the secession. The US and many EU countries support independence; Russia is opposed. Addressing the court in The Hague, ICJ president Hisashi Owada said international law contained "no applicable prohibition" of Kosovo's declaration of independence. "Accordingly, [the court] concludes that the declaration of independence on 17 February 2008 did not violate general international law," he said. Ten of the ICJ's judges supported the opinion; four opposed it. The US welcomed the ruling and urged European nations to unite behind it.
This opinion will not change any facts on the ground. Kosovo will still regard itself as independent. Serbia will still want what it sees as its territory back. But the decision will nonetheless have significant ramifications. There is nothing more sensitive in international affairs than sovereignty and borders. If Kosovo's independence is in accordance with international law, Moscow may ask, why shouldn't Abkhazia and South Ossetia's independence from Georgia be viewed in the same way? Indeed, why shouldn't other disputed border questions be revisited? Bosnia's borders may be a case in point. The implications go much wider and will make any country with separatist movements within its frontiers worry about the future.
Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu called for wider international recognition for his state."The decision finally removes all doubts that countries which still do not recognise the republic of Kosovo could have," he said.He also urged Serbian President Boris Tadic to change his attitude towards Kosovo.But Mr Tadic told reporters: "Serbia will never recognise the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo." The BBC's Mark Lowen in Belgrade says it is unlikely that Serbia will soften its approach, but there will be increasing pressure from the international community for Serbia to drop its aim of fresh talks on Kosovo's status. Earlier, Nato commanders said the 10,000-strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo was ready to deal with any violence sparked by the ruling. Serbian troops were driven out of Kosovo in 1999 after a Nato bombing campaign aimed at halting the violent repression of the province's ethnic Albanians, who constituted 90% of its two million population. Kosovo was then administered by the UN until February 2008, when its parliament voted to declare independence.
So far, 69 of the UN's 192 member countries have recognised Kosovo as independent - they include the US, UK, neighbouring Albania and Croatia. Those opposed include Russia, China and Bosnia. EU nations with separatist movements of their own - including Spain and Greece - have also not recognised Kosovo. At the start of the deliberations last December, Serbia's representatives argued that declaration of independence both challenged its sovereignty and undermined international law. Kosovo's representatives warned that any attempt to reverse its independence might spark further conflict. Although non-binding, the court's ruling is likely to provide a framework for diplomats to try to establish a working relationship between Serbia and Kosovo. The dispute remains an obstacle to Serbia's hopes of joining the EU, and has hindered Kosovo's ability to attract foreign investment. Parts of northern Kosovo also remain tensely divided between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, and clashes occasionally erupt.

^ Even though this ruling is non-binding it will have a huge impact on other would-be countries. I don't see that as being so bad. If a region wants to be a separate country then they should be given the chance to - the majority won't survive economically or politically, but if they want to try then let them. ^

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)

I saw this movie at the theater last weekend and have to say that for a PG Disney film it was pretty good. While it isn't the best movie there is it also isn't the worst. I wasn't too impressed with Nicolas Cage in this movie, but thought Jay Baruchel was good.
I am not sure there will be a sequel, but this film was easy to follow and was action-packed (well for a PG movie.)It is a good family film.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Muslims Against Veil

From Yahoo News:
"Syria bans full Islamic face veils at universities"

It seems that not only Europe views the face veil as a threat. Now Muslim countries (Syria, Turkey, etc) are starting to come aboard. I know many people (the ultra liberals) around the world tried to say that the proposed veil bans being discussed throughout Europe were just a sign of anti-Muslim discrimination, but here are Muslim countries doing the same thing. I hope the veil ban becomes law throughout Europe and other countries - especially the US. There are still Muslim countries (Saudi Arabia and Iran) where a woman can be beaten to death for not fully covering herself. If more Muslim countries come out against the veil and put political pressure on the other countries then it may be fully banned in the Muslim world as well. That is a long way off though.

Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future (1973)

This Soviet movie (Иван Васильевич меняет профессию - in Russian) was a pretty good movie. Of course there are many Communist references - since it was made in the USSR in the 1970s (ie the good of the collective, house registration, comrades, etc.) Despite those references I think the film would appeal to many people. It looks and feels like a '70s movie made in Western Europe or the US. That says something since many other Soviet films made in the 1970s feel like they were really from the 1950s or 1960s.
I thought the story was well thought out. A man creates a time machine where he sends two people from the 1970s to the time of Czar Ivan the Terrible (the 1500s) and brings Ivan the Terrible to 1970s Moscow. Even though the Soviet Union was officially atheist the movie had many references to religion which I found interesting and made me wonder what Soviet audiences would have thought of them.
The film was a light-hearted comedy and while I didn't get all the jokes (because they were either Communist based or about the 1970s) it was still easy to follow the story.
The movie was made more than 10 years before the American "Back to the Future" series of movies, but it still has the same basic flow of those other movies. It makes me wonder if the director of "Back to the Future" had seen this movie and used bits and pieces in his film.

Kapo (1959)

This was a very good movie. It is an Italian/French/Yugoslavian movie with many non-Italians speaking Italian. I thought it was a little strange that the main character is supposed to be French, is sent to a German death camp and then work camp and falls in love with a Russian POW (everyone speaking Italian.)
The main character, Edith/Nicole, is played by Susan Strasberg. She played the original Anne Frank on Broadway. She did a very good job in this film (going from innocent to brutal to caring.)
This movie is probably one of the first that show the true horror of the Holocaust. There is one scene where one of the inmates is being led to the gas chamber and she throws herself onto the electrified barbed wire fence and kills herself. While it can not take the place of actually seeing something like that in person (I don't think anything can) it did show 1950s audiences a glimpse of what the Germans did.
The film also brings up the question of what you would do if faced in the same situation. The first time this comes into play was when Edith saw her parents being arrested and joined them. Then when she escapes from the group of kids who are going to be gassed and enters the death camp as an inmate. She then has to decide whether she wants to become a Kapo and survive a little longer - by what many see as helping the Germans. The last decision is at the very end of the movie and has the most impact on her life and possible death. Of course I can not say for certain how I would act (I can only hope I know what I would do), but it does make you stop and think.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Never-Ending Conflict

I got this book (the full title is called: "Never-Ending Conflict: Israeli Military History") for my birthday and just finished it. It was a pretty good and interesting book. It dealt with all the major and minor wars and conflicts that Israel has had to fight since 1948. I have always been amazed that Israel has constantly defeated the Arab and Muslim countries that have called for the destruction of the country. Israel is such a small country that is surrounded by enemies (although some like Egypt and Jordan now have peace treaties with Israel) and not only have the Israelis kept its country secure, but it is the only thriving Democracy in the Middle East.
I am not saying that what Israel has done (especially regarding its wars) is right, but I fully understand that Israel has always felt "between a rock and a hard place" and that if they loose even one war then their country and their people will be destroyed.
The book talks about the 1948 War of Independence, the 1956 Suez War, the Six Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the wars in Lebanon and the conflict with the Palestinians. While the book does have a pro-Israeli view point it does talk about the good and the bad (both what the Arabs/Muslims did and the Israelis.) It is the closest neutral book on Israeli military history that I have seen.
I have said it before that that one of the two countries in the world I think still need to have military conscription is Israel (the other is South Korea.) Israel requires both men and women to be in the military (except for Israeli Arabs) and the fact that they have won every major war since the country was created in 1948 shows how effective the Israeli military is.
The main threat to Israel today is from Iran and the Palestinians. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have elected a pro-terrorist government (Hamas) that vows to destroy Israel as a whole and I can understand why Israel feels threatened by them. The Palestinians continue to shoot rockets and missiles into Israel killing innocent people and so the Israeli Government does what it should do in such a situation - it bombs the Gaza Strip. Until the Palestinians as a whole give up their open support for terrorism I do not believe they should have a separate state. Once the suicide bombings, rocket attacks and Hamas stop only then should Israel and the rest of the world allow the Palestinians to have their own country. To do so before the terrorism stops only creates another Arab/Muslim terrorist-supported country and the world does not need nor deserve that.

The Northern Ireland Conflict

I bought this book after my trip to Northern Ireland because I still had some questions on the conflict and the book is said to be a "Beginners Guides." I have finished reading it and am even more confused then I was before. The book does not break down all the different groups, organizations or phases of the Troubles. It jumps all over the place which is not something you want when trying to understand a 40 + year conflict.
I am very interested in history and politics and have studied numerous wars and conflicts. I do know the basics of the Northern Ireland Troubles, but that is not because of this book. I will have to see if there is a "Northern Ireland Conflict for Dummies" book and if so will get it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Russians Wait The Longest

From the Moscow Times:
"At 27 Minutes, Russians Wait in Line the Longest"

People spend an average of 27 minutes waiting in line in Russia, longer than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new survey. Russia's dismal showing is mainly because of long lines at post offices and banks, as well as the fact that workers at places where Russians line up never do anything to reduce the lines, said Oksana Aulchenkova, head of the Nextep marketing company, which carried out the survey. Italy had the second worst result, with lines taking 14 minutes on average, while Sweden and Britain provided the fastest services, with two- and three-minute lines, respectively. The 18-country study examined lines in grocery stores, banks, post offices, drug stores, fast food restaurants, bus stops and train stations. The average time that Europeans spend in a line has doubled from five to 10 minutes since 2008, the survey said.

^ Having lived and visited Russia I can say first-hand that there is no such thing as Customer Service in Russia. I am not simply talking about dealing with the Russian Government (ie getting a visa, registering your visa and migration card, etc) since most Governments in the world have similar problems. Just going to a small store in Russia requires a lot of work and time. For the majority of stores you have to: go into a store and go up to a counter, then wait to have an assistant show you an item (everything is behind the counter,) then you have to go to the cashier (kassa) and wait to tell the person which section you want the item from and the price, then you pay. You then go back to the section and wait again for an assistant to take your "check" make sure it is correct and then get your item. This has to be done in each section of a store and that in itself takes forever. Then you move on to the next store and repeat the process. It is the same process at the bank when you want to change a foreign currency into Rubles.
I have gone to places (like the train station, post office, etc) and have waited in line a long time just to get up to the front and have the person put a sign in the window and walk away (they have decided to take a long break) and there is nothing you can do about it.
The system in Russia (especially trying to do basic, everyday things) is still based on that of the Soviet Union. While there are no longer rationed items or bare shelves the long lines still continue to plague the ordinary Russian. ^

Argentina Says "Si"

From Yahoo News:
"Argentina legalizes gay marriage in historic vote"

Argentina has become the first Latin American country to allow gays to marry. I firmly believe that each country (or in the case of the US - each State) should vote whether or not they want to allow gays to marry. If the residents/citizens vote "No" then gays shouldn't be able to marry, but there still should be anti-discrimination laws and domestic unions allowed. If the residents/citizens vote "Yes" then gays should be allowed to marry.

Backing Arizona

From Yahoo News:
"Brief for 9 states backs Arizona immigration law"

The fact that 8 other States: Alabama, Florida, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia (as well as the Northern Mariana Islands - which is a US Commonwealth)shows that the Federal Government is not doing its job to protect the borders. Only one of the other states (Texas) is a border-state and that shows this issue goes beyond the obvious. I only hope that more States start taking action and voice their disgust at illegal immigration.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You Know You've Been In Russia Too Long When...

From Facebook:
"You Know You've Been In Russia Too Long When....."

You know you've been in Russia too long when... don't think things are that bad right now. have to think twice about throwing away an empty instant coffee jar. carry a plastic shopping bag with you 'just in case'. say he/she is 'on the meeting' (instead of 'at the' or 'in a' meeting). answer the phone by saying 'allo, allo, allo' before giving the caller a chance to respond. save table scraps for the cats living in the courtyard.
...when crossing the street, you sprint. winter, you choose your route by determining which icicles are least likely to impale you in the head. are impressed with the new model Lada or Volga car. let the telephone ring at least 4 times before you pick it up because it is probably a misconnection or electrical fault. hear the radio say it is zero degrees outside and you think it is a nice day for a change. argue with a taxi driver about a fare of 30 rubles ($2) to go 2 kilometres in a blizzard. actually know and CARE whether Spartak won last night. win a shoving match with an old babushka for a place in line and you are proud of it. are pleasantly surprised when there is toilet paper in the WC at work. look at people's shoes to determine where they are from. are pleasantly surprised when there is real wine in the bottle of Georgian Kinzamaruli you bought in a kiosk. notice that Flathead's cell phone is smaller than yours and you're jealous.
...your day seems brighter after seeing that goon's Mercedes broadsides by a pensioner's Moskvich. are thrown off guard when the doorman at the nightclub is happy to see you.'re not sure what to do when the GAI (traffic cop) only asks you to pay the official fine. wonder what the tax inspector really wants when she says everything is in order. give a 10% tip only if the waiter has been really exceptional. plan your vacation around those times of the year when the hot water is turned off. are relieved when the guy standing next to you on the bus actually uses a handkerchief. are envious because your expatriate friend has smaller door keys than you do. ask for no ice in your drink. go mushroom and berry picking out of necessity instead of recreation. develop a liking for beetroot. know what Dostoyevsky's favourite colour was. start to believe that you're a character in a Tolstoi novel. know seven people whose favorite novel is 'The Master and Margarita'. change into tapki (slippers) and wash your hands as soon as you walk into your apartment. take a trip to Budapest and think you've been to heaven. start thinking of black bread as a good chaser for vodka. drink the brine from empty pickle jars. can read barcodes, and you start shopping for products by their country of production. begin to refer to locals as nashi (ours).
...It doesn't seem strange to pay the GAI $2.25 for crossing the double line while making an illegal U-turn, and $35 for a microwaved dish of frozen vegetables at a crappy restaurant.
...your coffee cups habitually smell of vodka. know more than 60 Olgas. give your business card to social acquaintances. wear a wool hat in the sauna. put the empty bottle of wine on the floor in a restaurant. are rude to people at the airport for no reason. have to check your passport for an arrival-in-Russia date.
...Remont (repair), pivo (beer) and nalivai (pour!) become integral parts of your vocabulary.'ve been to Tallinn at least a dozen times for visas. are curious as to when they might start exporting Baltika beer to your home country.
....Cigarette smoke becomes 'tolerable'. think metal doors are a necessity. changed apartments 6 times in 6 months. no longer feel like going to your 'home' country. speak to other expats in your native language, but forget a few of the simplest words and throw in some Russian ones. remember how many kilos you weigh - but forget how many pounds.
....A gallon of gasoline or milk seems like a foreign concept. no longer miss the foods you grew up with, and pass them up at foreign-owned supermarkets. actually enjoy shopping at the rynok (market), and you think that Ramstore is the most advanced supermarket you've ever been to. think that the Manezh is a real shopping mall. try to pay a traffic fine on the spot and get arrested for attempted bribery. look for kvas and kefir in the supermarket, and ask to buy half a head of cabbage. see a car behind you with flashing lights and think it's some politician. don't feel guilty about not paying on the trolleybus. can sleep through a hangover without curtains on your windows.
....The elevator aroma seems reassuring somehow. no longer think washing clothes in the bathtub is an inconvenience. can heat water on the stove and shower with it in less than 10 minutes. do not take off that silly sticker on the sunglasses that you just bought.
...your sister writes to you about the best prime rib she's ever had and you can't remember what it looks or tastes like.
....The sellers at the rynok start calling you by your patronymic only. have had your clothes ruined by all the so-called Western style dry cleaners and have to start the cycle over again. bring your own scale and calculator to the market to make sure the amount you are charged is correct. know the Moscow Metro better than you know the subway system back home.
....A weekend anywhere in the Baltics qualifies as a trip to the West. start buying Russian toilet paper. sit in silence with your eyes shut for a few moments before leaving on any long journey. look in the mirror to turn away bad luck if you have to return home to pick up something you've forgotten. catch yourself whistling indoors and feel guilty. never smile in public when you're alone. know the official at the metro station/airport/border post/post office/railway station etc. etc. is going to say nyet, but you argue anyway. save tea bags of Yorkshire Tea brought over especially from home to use for a second cup later... go back to England and notice how frosty, unemotional, unsentimental and cold the Brits are and long to return to the warm rush of the Russian dusha (soul).
..When that strange pungent mix of odours of stale sawdust, sweat and grime in the metro makes you feel safe and at home... are in awe that after 3 days home your shoes are still clean. get wildly offended when you are asked to pay at the coatcheck. are afraid of offending someone by asking him or her what they do for a living.
....(For women) When you dress up in your best outfits for work and ride the metro.
.....When the word 'salad' ceases for you to have anything to do with lettuce.
.....When mayonnaise becomes your dressing of choice. can recite in Russian all the words to all of tampon and chewing gum commercials.
....When you begin paying attention to peoples' floors and can distinguish the quality of linoleum and/or parquet, and thus determine social status, taste, and income e.g. embezzled, earned, pension, unpaid, etc.) get excited when the dentist smiles and has all his own teeth. can spark a debate by asking for a decent Mexican restaurant. do all your shopping at kiosks. voluntarily take a stroll in the park, Baltika beer in hand, on a sub-zero day.
.....When pulled over by a policeman, you pretend not to speak Russian and say Ya ne ponedelnik instead of Ya ne ponimayu on purpose. pretend not to speak Russian when you walk in to a restaurant and ask to use their loo without buying anything.
......When a streetcab tries to over-charge you, you turn the incident in to an example of how Russia is loosing its dignity in the eyes of the world. are no longer surprised when your taxi driver tells you that before Perestroika he worked as a rocket scientist. laugh at Russian jokes. actually get these jokes. actually spend time writing these jokes! feel queasy when someone tries to shake ...your hand over a threshold. continue to 'cross' the number 7 back at home. think it's too hot, no matter what season return home. specify 'no gas' when asking for mineral water. are dumbstruck back at home when high school or college students wait on you with a smile, reciting a 90 second spiel on the 'specials of the day' and display complete knowledge of the contents of each menu item realize that all the above and the other messages on this subject posted here are what you love about Russia, that you've been here long enough to feel at home and wonder whether you'll ever able to fit back in the old country...

^ The sentences in bold are the ones I have personally done/felt when I was in Russia. ^

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Iroquois Needs US Passport

From Yahoo News:
"US rule could keep Iroquois from lacrosse tourney"

I agree with the US Government in this case. The Iroquois Tribal Nation have a special status within the US (and Canada) but is not a separate country and so the citizens of the Tribal Reservation are also US citizens and thus need a US Passport to re-enter the country. While I do not agree with the law that states that US Citizens coming back into the United States from Canada, Bermuda, Mexico and the Caribbean need a Passport I do think they should have one for the rest of the world (and in this case the United Kingdom.)
I came back from the UK last week and used my Passport so the Iroquois members need to do the same. If they do not recognize themselves as US Citizens then that is their right and they can stay home. It is also the right of the US Government to refuse them entry into the country without a valid US Passport (and the UK's right to refuse them a visa for not having the correct, legal documents.)

Northern Ireland Riots

I was in Northern Ireland at the end of June and even though everyone you talk to says that things are peaceful there (because of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement) I felt the uneasiness when I was there. From July 11-12th there were numerous riots throughout Northern Ireland which lead to at least 3 British soldiers being shot.
I remember on June 20th when I was in Belfast, seeing lots of wood - in the Protestant areas (for bonfires) and either British or Irish flags throughout the city. They were getting ready for July 12th when Protestants would march around the city to remember the Battle of the Boyne - when the Protestant English king won over the Catholic English king.
I know that both sides are at fault for the violence. Each side paints murals in their areas that threaten violence on the other. Each side paints the sidewalks different colors or hangs signs telling people that they are in either the Protestant or Catholic area. I do not understand why the Protestants are allowed to march through Catholic areas (and vice versa) as that will only lead to anger, demonstrations and riots - as was the case over this past weekend. It is the same thing as allowing Neo-Nazis to march in a Jewish neighborhood - it may be legal but by allowing the marches is also allowing whatever violence stems from that.
People around the world think that the Troubles in Northern Ireland are over and that there is peace there. Anyone who has been there (even recently) know that the violence and angry feelings are still there.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

More Help For PTSD

From Yahoo News:
"More post-traumatic stress help for vets"

The government is taking what President Barack Obama calls "a long overdue step" to aid veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, making it easier for them to receive federal benefits. The changes that Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will announce Monday fulfill "a solemn responsibility to provide our veterans and wounded warriors with the care and benefits they've earned when they come home," Obama said in his weekly radio and online address Saturday. The new rules will apply not only to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but also those who served in previous conflicts.
No longer will veterans have to prove what caused their illness. Instead, they would have to show that the conditions surrounding the time and place of their service could have contributed to their illness.
"I don't think our troops on the battlefield should have to take notes to keep for a claims application," the president said. "And I've met enough veterans to know that you don't have to engage in a firefight to endure the trauma of war." Veterans advocates and some lawmakers have argued that it sometimes could be impossible for veterans to find records of a firefight or bomb blast. They also have contended that the old rules ignored other causes of PTSD, such as fearing a traumatic event even if it doesn't occur. That could discriminate against female troops prohibited from serving on front lines and against other service members who don't experience combat directly. "This is a long overdue step," Obama said. "It's a step that proves America will always be here for our veterans, just as they've been there for us. We won't let them down. We take care of our own." A study last year by the RAND Corp. think tank estimated that nearly 20 percent of returning veterans, or 300,000, have symptoms of PTSD or major depression. A senior official at the Department of Veterans Affairs said the agency doesn't expect the number of veterans receiving benefits for PTSD to rise dramatically, as most veterans with legitimate applications for benefits do eventually get claims. The goal is simply to make the claims process less cumbersome and time-consuming, said the official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity ahead of the VA's announcement.

^ This is a long time in the making, but a great step in the right direction. The country (both the Government and the people) need to do more for those who fought to protect the country. Whether you are for the wars or not is not the point. Soldiers don't create the wars - government officials do. I completely agree that all vets (not just those from Iraq or Afghanistan) deserve these new rules. I only hope that the new rules will be followed and that more vets will get the help they desperately need. ^

Sometimes It Is Black And White

From Yahoo News:
"NY woman questioned again and again over ID mix-up"

SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. – Sylvie Nelson's border crossings are anything but routine. Customs agents sometimes order her out of her car. Twice, they handcuffed her in front of her young children. Once, agents swarmed her car and handcuffed her husband, too. She tells them: It's not me you want, it's a man with the same birth date and a similar name. Agents always confirm that and let her go. Then it happens again. And again. "I can understand one missed identification," Nelson said. "But over and over and over again?"
Nelson, a 44-year-old white woman, keeps getting snared at the Canadian border because she apparently shares some key identifying information with a black man, possibly from Georgia, who is in trouble with the law. While such cases of mistaken identity at border points and airports are not unique, Nelson's case is unusual in that only some of her crossings set off an alarm and because federal officials have not fixed the problem after almost two years. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials told The Associated Press they cannot discuss Nelson's case, and they have shared few details with her. Still, it's clear from their correspondence with Nelson and her congressman that they acknowledge the problem, saying they have taken "positive steps" to address it.
The nation's 4,000-mile boundary with Canada is tested regularly by people trying to smuggle cigarettes, drugs and illegal immigrants. In New York, the drive-through crossings also are kept busy by steady streams of shoppers, tourists and people with personal ties to both countries, like Nelson. Nelson was born in Canada, married an American and lives with him, her 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son in Saranac Lake, where she runs the chamber of commerce. She became a U.S. citizen in 2008. Nelson crosses the border several times a month to visit relatives, friends and her family's second home, using her Canadian passport to leave the country and her U.S. passport to get back in. Her U.S. passport first triggered an alarm in August 2008. Agents told her the mix-up would be corrected, and she crossed without incident many times after that.
In December, she was ordered from her car and handcuffed as she came back from a Montreal shopping trip with her children. Nelson was mortified and melted into tears but was soon told she was free to go. It happened again in February at a different New York crossing. Agents surrounded her car and her husband also was handcuffed. Again, she was let go. "They never apologize," Nelson said. "They basically tell you that they're doing their job for the better good of the world." Nelson has struggled to get information from Homeland Security officials. They will not tell her who she is being confused with or why the problem persists. She doesn't know why her passport triggers alarms some days but not others.Much of what she knows comes from bits of information gleaned at her border stops or from U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, who has been trying to help her.There is no indication Nelson is on the terror "watch list" that makes headlines when babies or politicians are mistakenly entered into the database. She believes another agency's computerized index of criminal justice information may be at fault.
Nelson says the man appears to be wanted in DeKalb County, Georgia, though neither the county sheriff's office nor the Georgia Bureau of Investigation came up with a match for a man with Nelson's birth date and last name.Owens said he was told the problem endures because of a "technology issue." Customs spokeswoman Joanne Ferreira said the agency cannot discuss individual cases for legal and enforcement reasons. Ferreira wrote in an e-mail to the AP that "CBP strives to treat all travelers with respect and in a professional manner, while maintaining the focus of our mission to protect all citizens and visitors." A customs official told Owens in a May 19 letter that there were "positive steps" in Nelson's case. She triggered an alarm since then, though her last two crossings were uneventful. Nelson now warns agents at the border about her problem before they scan her passport. She is no longer handcuffed. "I think it's been reduced from embarrassing and nerve wracking to just frustrating," Owens said. The head of New York's Champlain crossing gave Nelson his cell phone number so she can call before crossings so he can help. She refuses to call ahead, reasoning that the government should be responsible for fixing its own problem. "Right now, I'm frustrated," she said, "but the terrifying could be right around the corner. Who knows?"

^ I think this shows that the system currently used by the US Border Patrol does not work. It lets many people who should be targeted to board planes and enter/leave the US while it stops the innocent. I was all for the new rules (ie including your full name and birth date) when buying a plane ticket as I understood it would stop these kinds of things from happening (ie obviously a child born in 2009 is not the same as a man born in 1953, etc.) However it seems that the system is still seriously flawed and the Government is not doing a thing to fix it. This woman is stopped almost every time she re-enters the United States even though the system is looking for a black man and she is a white woman. You would think the Border Patrol would be smart enough to think for themselves and see that a white woman is not the same as a black man, but it seems they are not that smart as she keeps getting stopped and questioned. The odd thing is she became a US citizen in 2008 and you would think the flawed system would have stopped her from becoming a citizen and that red flags would have alerted officials to look into her case more, but they didn't since she continues to have problems. It seems to me that the Government continues to use a flawed system so they can act as though they are keeping the country safe when in reality it doesn't (like I said above, it stops the innocent and lets the guilty go free.) This really is a case of you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent - although I do not know how a white woman can prove she is not a black man - common sense and anyone with eye sight should be able to figure it out (something it seems the Border Patrol and Government seem to lack.)I have dealt with many officials who are basically nobodies and try to abuse what little authority they have to make themselves seem more important - I have the feeling that is exactly what is going on in this case. Some little nobody border guard wants to make it big and get their five minutes of fame and so even when it is obvious that this woman is not the man they want (literally) the guard will still question and hold her up just in case. There needs to be a complete overhaul of the do-not fly list and the terrorist-watch list. More training of Border Guards, the TSA and other Government Officials needs to take place that teaches them to use their head when the facts are thrown in their face. They need to stop focusing on the proven innocent people and start focusing on the proven guilty. ^

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Heat Wave

For the past 7 days the Eastern US has been hit by a heat wave that has broken countless records. We were in the upper 90s to the low 100s with high humidity. It got so bad here that my dogs were huddled in my room trying to get all the cool air from my small ac unit and my fan - and they were succeeding. When I lived in New York and Virginia we had central air and a pool, but here we only have some ceiling fans, 2 small window ac units and no pool.
People here in New England are used to having very cold, snowy winters, but are not used to having very hot, dry summers. It was hotter here last week than it was in Texas (they were getting a lot of rain.)It was almost as hot here as it is for my dad in Iraq - but he is in the desert and we aren't.
Last night we had some thunderstorms that broke the heat wave. It is now in the 70s. It is supposed to thunderstorm today and tomorrow and then the 90 degree temperatures are expected to come back on Monday.

European Ferry/Sea Rights

From the BBC:
"New rights for ferry and maritime passengers expected"

It seems that the EU is moving past the US in certain key rights. The EU has a good Air Passenger's Bill of Rights that has been tested (most recently by the closures caused by the volcanic ash cloud) and now they are going to do the same for ferry/sea passengers.
The US just recently made an Air Passenger Bill of Rights for Domestic Flights. These have yet to be fully tested. As of right now there is nothing in the law for International flights, but it is being considered. I haven't heard anything about extending the law to include ferries or sea travel. Hopefully, the US will create and enforce all these laws since passengers have been treated like cattle for far too long and we need/deserve to have protections under the law.

Europe Pro Ban

From Yahoo News:
"Survey: Europeans back veil ban, Americans opposed"

I have written about this before and fully support a veil ban in the United States and in any other country. Many countries in Europe (especially in France) will soon make it illegal to wear a veil in public. While many people may say that it is only a religious issue it is also a security issue. If Arab and Muslim countries want to force women to wear the veil in their countries than that is one thing, but to move someplace like Europe or the US where that is not part of our tradition and expect to be able to wear the veil is just dumb. It is on par with an immigrant moving to the US and not speaking English (ie if you want to keep your traditions and language then you should stay in your home country.) Hopefully, the US will see what happens in other countries that will ban the veil and will eventually make it illegal here as well.

DOMA Overturned

From Yahoo News:
"Federal gay marriage ban is ruled unconstitutional"

The DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was ruled unconstitutional. I think it isn't the Federal Government's role to decide who can and cannot marry. The States should decide the marriage requirements for themselves. Actually I think that every State should have a referendum where the ordinary people vote whether to allow gay marriage or not. I know many States have changed their State Constitutions to outlaw gay marriage and some States have made gay marriage legal without taking into account what their residents want. In both cases, the decision should be made by the residents of each State and the results of their voting should then determine whether gay marriage is allowed or not.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Russian Spies

From Wikipedia:
"Illegals Program"

I have heard everyone say that it is just like the Cold War. One thing that really gets me is that everyone keeps saying that nothing will happen between US/Russian relations. I know that most governments around the world employ spies to work in other countries (the US included), but it is one of those "no one cares until you are caught" kind of things. The Russians were caught and instead of making an official statement against the Russian Government, the United States does nothing - except swap our spies for theirs. There is obviously much more going on than just the spies and I think the US doesn't want "upset" Russia so they will support us in other areas (ie Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, etc.)I know many Russians and have to say that when I first heard of the spy ring in the US one person came to mind - of course this person wasn't involved.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

British Queen Costs

From Yahoo News:
"Cost of the queen: less than $1 per person a year"

LONDON – Like millions of her subjects, Queen Elizabeth II is going to have to make do and mend — cutting spending and putting off palace repairs as royal finances are squeezed by Britain's budget crisis. Accounts published Monday by Buckingham Palace reveal the total public cost of supporting the monarchy was 38.2 million pounds ($57.8 million) in the year to March 31, the equivalent of 62 pence (94 cents) per person. The total is more than 3 million pounds less than in 2008-2009.
Britain's public sector is facing cuts as the government tries to eliminate a record deficit, and Alan Reid, Keeper of the Privy Purse, said the royal household "is acutely aware of the difficult economic climate" and will be cutting costs and putting off essential maintenance.
The 84-year-old queen receives 7.9 million pounds ($12.3 million) of public money each year to pay for staff and other costs, an amount that has not risen in 20 years. The accounts show also drew an extra 6.5 million pounds ($9.8 million) from a reserve fund built up over the years by saving portions of her allocated budget.If the queen continues to use money from her reserve at the current rate, the fund will run out by 2012 — the year she celebrates her 60th year on the throne.She had been expected to ask for an increase in basic funding this year, but the government — which is bringing in deep cuts to welfare payments and spending programs — imposed a freeze until at least next year.The accounts show the government spent more than 15 million pounds ($23.4 million) on the upkeep of royal residences including Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, and almost 4 million pounds ($6.2 million) on royal travel. Both amounts were down from the previous year.Reid said the royal household would be cutting its property services budget by half a million pounds, "implementing a head count freeze and reviewing every vacancy to see if we can avoid replacement." He said "the necessary cuts in public expenditure will have an impact on the backlog of essential maintenance which it is hoped can be addressed in the longer term." "In the meantime, the household is continuing to pursue opportunities to reduce costs and generate income from the estate's assets, including commercial lettings and management charges," he said. News of the royal cost-cutting did not satisfy the anti-monarchy group Republic, which held a protest outside Buckingham Palace on Monday. Campaign manager Graham Smith said Britain's monarchy was the most expensive in Europe, and "continues to waste many millions of pounds of taxpayers' money when front line services are being threatened." "It's time to slash the budgets without reservation or sentiment," he said.

^ I just came back from London and saw the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London and saw how some of the money gets spent. This article only tells how much those living in the United Kingdom pay per person for having a Monarch. It does not talk about all the other countries (ie Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc) or how much those citizens pay per person for having a Monarch. I know many people think that a Monarchy nowadays is a useless thing since they only have symbolic power, but I know many Monarchists who believe that it is a tradition that needs to continue. As long as Queen Elizabeth 2 is alive I believe the Monarchy will continue in all the current countries where she reigns. I do not think that it will continue in places like Australia or Canada once she is no longer on the throne. ^

Sunday, July 4, 2010

4th Of July!

Today is Independence Day! While usually we would be having a BBQ, watching fireworks, etc this year we had a very low-key day (part of it is due to our recent trip to Europe and us wanting to relax.) It is a very sunny, hot and humid outside - a really nice day. I may watch the fireworks on TV, but won't see them in person.
One thing I don't understand is why the next town from mine had their parade and fireworks yesterday since today is still the weekend (what's wrong with celebrating the holiday on the actual day?)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

New US Passport And Visa Fees

From the State Department's website:
"New Passport Fees - Effective July 13"

Note: the prices in bold are the new prices effective July 13, 2010. The other price is the current one.

Non-Immigrant Visa Fees:
- Nonimmigrant visa application $131.00 $140.00
1. H, L, O, P and R categories $131.00 $150.00
2. E Visas $131.00 $390.00
3. K Visa $131.00 $350.00
4. BCC Adult $131.00 $140.00

Immigrant Visa Fees
Application Processing Fee
1. Family-based immigrant visa $355.00 $330.00
2. Employment-based immigrant visa $355.00 $720.00
3. Other immigrant visas (SIVs, DVs, etc.) $355.00 $305.00
IV Security Surcharge $45.00 $74
Diversity Visa Lottery surcharge $375.00 $440.00
Domestic review of Affidavit of Support $70.00 $88.00
Determining Returning Resident Status $400.00 $380.00

Passport Fees:

Passport Book - adult $100.00** $135.00
Passport Book - minor $85.00** $105.00
Passport Book Renewal - Adult $75.00 $110.00
Additional passport visa pages - $82.00 (currently free)

Passport Card - Adult $45.00 $55.00
Passport Card - Child $35.00 $40.00

Consular Report of Birth Abroad $65.00 $100.00
Renunciation of U.S. Citizenship - $450.00
File Search and Verification of U.S. Citizenship $60.00 $150.00

Overseas Citizens Services:

Disposition/Shipment of Remains of a non-U.S. Citizen $265.00 + expenses $200.00 + expenses Documentary Services
Notarials, Certifications of True Copies, Authentications, provision of Department of State records $30.00 (first),20.00 (addt'l)$50.00

Judicial Services:
Processing Letters Rogatory & FSIA $735.00 $2,275.00
Taking Depositions or Executing Commissions:
1. Scheduling/Arranging Depositions $475.00 $1,283.00
2. Attending or Taking Depositions $265.00/hr + expenses $309.00/hr + expenses
3. Swearing in Witnesses $265.00/hr + expenses $231.00/hr + expenses
4. Supervising Telephone Depositions $265.00/hr + expenses $231.00/hr + expenses
5. Providing Seal and Certification $70.00 $415.00
Administrative Services
Consular Time Charges (per hour) $265.00 $231.00

Use of Passport Fees

Passport application fees are not only used to cover the costs of producing a U.S. Passport Book or Passport Card. Passport fees also cover the costs of providing emergency services for American citizens overseas in crisis situations, such as the current earthquake disaster in Haiti, helping Americans who have been the victims of crime while traveling or living abroad, and providing support to the families of American citizens who have died overseas.

Passport application fees enable us to keep up with technology and implement fraud prevention initiatives to protect the United States passport. The security features of the U.S. passport book have received high praise from document security specialists the world over. Investing in new technology to prevent passport fraud is one of our key priorities, and an ongoing initiative.

Passport fees fund the expansion of passport infrastructure and service, allowing us to offer more timely service to the traveling public, maintain high standards for adjudication in accordance with US citizenship laws, and provide appropriate attention to fraud vulnerabilities.

Over the last few years, the demand for passports has increased to an average of 15 million per year. In FY 2005, we issued 10.1 million passports; peaked at 18.4 million in FY 2007; and expect to issue over 15 million in FY 2010. To increase our presence in under served areas, the Department has undertaken a systematic expansion of the passport network, particularly in communities affected by the land border-crossing requirements associated with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. By the end of FY 2010, we will have 23 agencies providing emergency passport services to the general public, three high-volume application processing centers, and two large-scale document print centers.

Value of the Passport

The U.S. Passport Book and U.S. Passport Card for adults are valid for ten years. Passports for minors under age 16 are valid for five years. The U.S. Passport is not just used for travel anymore. It serves as proof of U.S. citizenship and identity for important purposes such as work authorization and eligibility for many Federal benefits.

^ This is beyond ridiculous. First they force Americans to have passports to re-enter their own country (after 200 + years of not needing one) and then they keep raising the prices. Of course more people are applying for a passport in the past 3 years since it is now required to travel back from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. This is just a way of keeping Americans inside the country - it is a form of exit/entrance permission that was once only seen in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the Iron Curtain and other totalitarian countries. Even Russia allows its citizens to travel (by air, rail or land) to certain other countries - such as the Ukraine, Belarus and all the other former Soviet Republics except: Turkmenistan, Georgia and the Baltics - using only their internal passport and not their international passport. That is pretty sad when people in Russia have more freedom of movement than Americans. I am all for requiring foreigners entering the United States to have a passport, but not American citizens. On top of the increase in passport books and cards (luckily I just renewed mine) the price of visas is going up. I thought we wanted to welcome foreign visitors to our country yet we seem to only make laws that push them away. We finger print and take their pictures at both embassies and the border (as though they are guilty until they prove themselves innocent instead of the other way around, we make them get electronic permission before they can enter the country - but that permission still doesn't guarantee they can stay in the US and then we keep raising the visa fees. I don't know what idiots in Congress and the State Department are creating these laws and prices, but it is obvious they do not Americans to have the freedom of movement we enjoyed for 200 + years or to have any foreign visitors to our country. If they want to continue in this way why don't they just build a huge bubble over the United States? That would solve all their problems. ^

Hungary Preserves Memory

From Russia Today:
"Holocaust crimes equated to Communists’ actions"

The events of the Holocaust and those that the Soviets/Communists did in Hungary caused the arrests, deportation and death of thousands of Hungarians and it is only right that the two historical events be protected by laws so no one can diminish what the victims went through. Poland and a few other countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have laws regarding the Soviet occupations in their area and some also have those regarding the Holocaust. No matter what true history does not change, but laws like this one will help preserve the memory of both the victims and the survivors.

Sweden Ends The Draft

From Yahoo News:
"Sweden scraps military conscription"

This seems to be the latest trend in the 21st Century. I think it is a great idea and that the majority of countries (ie Germany, Russia, the Ukraine, etc) do not need the draft/conscription anymore. The only countries I think still need to have it are Israel and South Korea and that is because of the threat each one faces from neighboring countries that have resulted in wars in the past. Israel is still threatened by the majority of the Arab and Muslim countries - many officially call for its destruction. South Korea is threatened by North Korea.
It is odd that Sweden ended military conscription right after its heir to the throne got married, but I think it just happened that way.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ireland: Trip Home

The same car and driver took us back to Heathrow the next day (Tuesday) for our flight home. We checked-in at Virgin Atlantic and then were told to go to the Information Desk to fill out a form for the wheelchair. When we got there no one was around and when the guy finally did come I asked him about us putting the chair inside the cabin instead of underneath. He was such a moron and kept saying the wheelchair wouldn't fit in the overhead compartments. I tried to explain to him that when we flew over to London they put the chair in the closet on the plane, but he wasn't having any of it. Finally we walked away. My mom and I said good-bye to my dad (our flight was leaving at 3 pm and his plane back to Kuwait was at 10 pm.)
We had no problem going through security - again the British were nice and helpful. We had to wait in the general waiting area until they announced which gate we would leave from.
When we went to the gate I asked the woman there about putting the wheelchair inside the cabin and she said they wouldn't do it. Then I asked her if they could put in a request to have the wheelchair brought up to the gate as quickly as possible - the woman gave a stupid answer and I walked away. The rest of the flight was uneventful. When we landed we walked to the gate and waited for the chair. Then when we were going to US Immigration I saw something I have never seen before in the US - they had a line for Diplomats and Wheelchairs. Usually we would just have to go in the main line and wait with the other hundreds of people. After the guy stamped our passports we saw that the elevator down to our bags and Customs required a code. No one was around to help so I waited for an Immigration guy to finish with a person and asked him about the elevator. He said it was because it was a secured area (yet there was no code needed for the secured stairs.) We waited some more and I even waved at the cameras hoping someone would come - eventually the guy came and we got our bags. I pushed the wheelchair with one hand and the cart with the 3 bags with my other - no one would help or move out of the way.
I called the parking place to bring a wheelchair van and they came. We had no issues the rest of the trip home (2 hours from Boston.) The house was fine and we were exhausted. The next morning (my birthday) at 8 am we picked up my dogs and started unpacking.
I have to say that when things went badly on the trip they were horrible and when they were good they were great. Ireland is a very beautiful country, but the majority of people we personally dealt with did not care to help in any way and many lied to us. The main exceptions were our Dublin driver - Ezio, the owner of the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel - Brian and our main driver - Des. They were really great and helped make the middle of the trip a lot of fun. Of course my parents did a lot to make things better and visiting my friend in London was fun too. I may go back to Ireland again, but will stay away from Authentic Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle and several other places.

Ireland: London

We checked-in at our hotel (the Hilton Euston.) My parents had a nice, large room on the first floor while I had a very small cubby hole on the 4th floor. Since our flight was 2 hours late we didn't have time to freshen up before my friend came. I met my friend while working at an overnight summer camp for the mentally and physically disabled in NY and we planned to spend the day in London.
When we met up (she had taken the train into London) we ate lunch at a pub with my parents and then took a taxi to the Tower of London. I have to say that every London taxi is large enough for a wheelchair and even has a ramp.
I have been to the Tower before, but it was the first time for my friend. We had a nice time. We saw the Crown Jewels and then had to go back and meet my parents for dinner. We took a taxi back to the hotel. We decided to eat at the hotel and it was a really nice meal. After the meal my friend had to catch her train so I walked her to the station.
It was a really nice, fun time and a great way to unwind after all the problems in Ireland.

Ireland: Flight To London

We got picked up by another car company and drove to Shannon Airport. We had no problems checking in with Aer Lingus or going through security - they were nice and helpful like the English had been. We had to wait in the general waiting area and then were told to go to our gate. The Aer Lingus guy said that the plane was undergoing "routine maintenance" and that we would be delayed. I know he was lying because who schedules maintenance when the plane is supposed to be in the air?
Shannon Airport had a Smoking Lounge, but you had to walk down 40 stairs so I took my mom to the edge of the stairs and she smoked there. Then when I brought her to the wheelchair bathroom it wasn't big enough to have the wheelchair in the room and shut the door at the same time. I guess Ireland is only made for handicapped leprechauns since no one was able to help an actual human in a wheelchair.
The flight was finally going to leave 2 hours late. Everyone person I spoke to at Aer Lingus was disorganized and had no idea what was going on. They said I could go out with my mom as the pre-boarded her from an elevator (since there were stairs to the plane.) The guy at the elevator told me to go to the stairs to meet my mom in the plane. When I went up the stairs a guy yelled at me to get off the stairs. I asked the woman who took our boarding passes and she had no idea what was going on. When they finally let me on I asked the flight attendant where they were going to bring my mom out of the elevator and she said there was no elevator. I asked the head flight attendant and she was a real witch (with a capital B.) She started telling me that nothing was organized because of the 2 hour delay and that I would just have to wait. I told her that I was there to help my mom get to her seat. She said that I was lucky that the airline gave her a seat right in the front. I told her that Aer Lingus had given us seats in aisle 35 and that when I checked us in online I changed them to aisle 12. The capitan (Paul) came out of the cockpit and started telling me to sit down in my seat. I told him I was waiting to help my mom and that no one was doing anything to tell me where she was. Finally the guys brought my mom out of the elevator, but wouldn't let me help her to her seat.
When we landed in Heathrow we had to wait 20 minutes after the last passenger got off for the wheelchair. The head flight attendant tried to blame it on Heathrow being a large airport and when I told her that we had no problems getting the wheelchair at the gate when we landed at Heathrow from Boston she just shut up.
I took my mom to the wheelchair bathroom in London while we were waiting for our bags and it was a big difference from Ireland - you could fit about 5 wheelchairs in the room made for one.
We got our bags and met the driver we hired to bring us to our hotel.

Ireland: Bunratty

We drove from Galway to Bunratty and on the way to our hotel (the Bunratty Castle Hotel) we stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. We went to the Information Desk and I asked the woman there, Rose, if the place was 100% wheelchair accessible and she told us it was and even where to go. We went to the place she suggested and found the path was full of pot holes on both sides. It was very difficult to push the wheelchair up the path as I had to stop and go. When we made it to the top we couldn't see anything because the walls were too tall. We went down the path and back to the Visitor Center. I went to the Information Desk and told them I wanted to see the supervisor. After waiting about 15 minutes the supervisor came and I explained what happened and how her staff had lied to us about being able to get up there with a wheelchair. She tried to give me a bunch of excuses, but I wouldn't take any of them. At the very end she refunded us the 8 Euros parking fee, but the whole experience made the day awful.
We then went to our hotel and checked-in. Authentic Ireland had booked a dinner at a Medieval Banquet at Bunratty Castle. I even e-mailed Bunratty Castle myself and asked them about the wheelchair and got a response from Betty saying "there was absolutely no problem with coming in a wheelchair." When we got to the Castle the woman at the entrance told us that there we 2 stories of stairs that we would have to climb (not sure how that is accessible for wheelchairs.) She said that if we could get up the stairs then everything else would be fine. I even asked her about the wheelchair at the table since the benches had no backs on them. She said it would be fine. My dad went up the stairs and asked them about the wheelchair and was told it would be fine. My mom and I walked up the two stories and when I put her at the table the manager came running over and was saying that we couldn't stay there as it would "not allow the servers to serve the others." She did not care about us. I told her about what the woman at the entrance had said and showed her the e-mail where Betty said it was "absolutely no problem," but the manager did not care. She said we could eat in the basement and when I said that we wanted the show as well she wasn't having it. I really let her have it and then left. We had to walk back down the stairs and go to the entrance and talk to the same woman as before. This woman gave us all sorts of excuses and even offered us the dinner (but no show.) We didn't get a refund from them because we had a voucher from Authentic Ireland and would have to get it from them - I did have the woman right why we weren't getting the refund and why we couldn't see the show.
We left the Castle and were angry beyond belief - it was the second time that day we had problems and the last straw on the trip. We called Authentic Ireland and told them everything, but since it was a Saturday no one would be able to help us until Monday - when we would be in London.
The next day we had Des drive us far away from Bunratty. We drove around the coast and had an early day since we were exhausted and had to get up at 3 am for our flight to London. We send good-bye to Des and told him he made the trip really fun.