Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Yaroslavl (Ярославль)

From Moscow Times:
"Yaroslavl: It All Started With a Bear Fight"

Whether they realize it or not, anyone who has spent more than a few hours in Russia has glimpsed some of the sites of Yaroslavl. The luridly turquoise 1,000 ruble bank note features both ancient and modern vistas of the city, with the 17th-century, 15 onion-domed St. John the Baptist Church on one side and new 1990s buildings on the other. The bank note also features the Yaroslavl crest — on a glowing purple or green background depending on the age of your note — that famously shows a bear on its hind legs with a halberd slung casually over one shoulder. The almost certainly apocryphal legend behind the city’s adoption of the bear and ax symbol relates to its founding by Yaroslav the Wise in 1010. Intrigued by the trading potential of the site where the Kotorosl River flows into the Volga, the Kievan prince was exploring the area when angry locals set a sacred bear on him. Accosted by the beast in all its ferocity, Yaroslav the Wise casually disposed of it and its unwelcome attentions with his halberd, deciding subsequently to found a city in commemoration. A thousand and one years after Yaroslavl’s supposed tussle with the four-legged carnivore, the site where the city originally sprang up on a tongue of land that licks out into the Kotorosl and Volga rivers has been transformed — with the financial assistance of state gas monopoly Gazprom — into a flower-filled park complete with music and “dancing” fountains.

- The Yaroslavl Tire Factory (81 Sovietskaya Ulitsa) is one of the largest and oldest tire factories in Russia. Established in 1928 and completely destroyed by German bombers in 1943, it is now owned and operated by Sibur-Russian Tires and produces more than 160 types of tires for trucks, cars and aircraft.
- Of the 100 Baltika breweries in Russia, the Yaroslavl outfit (63 Ulitsa Pozharskogo) is one of the most productive, pumping out more than 6 billion liters of beer annually. Built in 1974, it underwent extensive reconstruction between 2000 and 2006, including the building of a new malt plant.
- The Yaroslavl Electrical Machine Building Plant (74 Prospekt Oktyabrya) manufactures electrical machinery, particularly pumps, for a European and Russian client base. The factory began production in 1928 as part of the Soviet electrification drive.

The area — known as Strelka — is packed on summer evenings with young couples, the elderly and tourists, who stroll up to a monument unveiled as part of the city’s millennial celebrations and then back along the Volga embankment. Children, their feet a blur, weave around the walkers in pedal-driven cars. Like other cities that have received significant federal investment for a historic anniversary, Yaroslavl underwent a face-lift as a part of its 1,000-year celebrations in 2010. About 30 billion rubles ($1 billion) was channeled to the city, and the state commission on preparations for the event was chaired by President Dmitry Medvedev. Major projects completed in time for the anniversary included improvements to a new bridge over the Volga, the complete rebuilding of the Cathedral of the Assumption dynamited in 1937, the reconstruction of the Volga embankment and the opening of a zoo. Zurab Tsereteli, the favorite sculptor of former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, even donated a 3-meter-tall metal bear to mark the occasion. But Yaroslavl has more to offer than shiny new walkways, a Tsereteli sculpture and a motley collection of caged animals filched from the African savannah. The city’s center was granted world heritage status by UNESCO in 2005, and there are dozens of beautiful churches from the 16th and 17th centuries. During that period Yaroslavl was Russia’s second city, and its merchants who had grown fat on profitable Volga trade financed religious artistry of the highest quality. Half of all tourists arriving in the city are non-Russian citizens. Yaroslavl has also been under the national and international spotlight in recent years thanks to the Global Policy Forum — a major set-piece international conference held in September — that has been driven by Medvedev. Although the event is a huge public relations opportunity for the city, it is organized by Moscow and heavy security keeps ordinary citizens far away from guests.

What to see if you have two hours
Yaroslavl’s rich history should be the priority for any time-strapped visitor. Start a visit by entering the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery with its thick white walls and spiked golden balls. The monastery was the site of the first higher education institute in Russia, and Ivan the Terrible took refuge behind its walls from the Mongols when they threatened Moscow. Just outside the monastery’s entrance is a statue of Yaroslav the Wise that stares in the direction of Moscow and was inaugurated by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine in 1993. A short walk along the city’s colonnaded trade rows, down one of the pedestrianized shopping streets and past the regional government building will bring you out onto Sovietskaya Ploshchad and the green-domed Church of Elijah the Prophet. The asphalt square hosts Yaroslavl’s parades, and the only traffic permitted on it on nonfestival days are speeding local government cars. Inside the church are well-preserved 17th-century frescoes.

What to do if you have two days
There are enough churches in Yaroslavl to keep an enthusiast occupied for a long time. But for the less-dedicated, highlights include the 17th-century red-brick Church of St. John the Baptist on the western bank of the Kotorosl, the traffic-surrounded Church of the Epiphany opposite the statue of Yaroslav the Wise with its beautiful ceramic tile work, and the Church of St. Nicholas Nadein on the bank of the Volga that boasts yet more impressive frescoes.

What to do with the family
For children chafing at the bit of museums and religious architecture, the Yaroslavl Zoo (137 Prospekt Shevelukha) has everything from bears and zebras to flamingos. The zoo claims it was visited by 30,000 people in the first month after its opening in 2010. Families would enjoy the city’s new planetarium (3 Ulitsa Tchaikovskogo), which is named after Valentina Tereshkova, a Yaroslavl native and the first woman to go into space. The city’s old planetarium is being converted into a church.Time can also be whiled away at the city’s amusement park, with its aging rides and refreshment stands reached by a pedestrian bridge onto a small island alongside Strelka or, during hot weather, on the sandy river shores behind the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery where various forms of water sports can be tried out.

Where to eat
If you’re looking for the bizarre, the Texas Country Cafe (26 Prospekt Tolbukhina) is a must. Waiting staff will serve you classic Russian dishes of borsch and plates of pickles dressed in Wild West outfits and cowboy hats. A meal for one without alcohol will come to about 1,000 rubles. Despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that the last Saturday of every month sees a cowboy-themed party, Texas is also popular with regional politicians and their visiting guests. Another kitsch spot, this time closer to the city center and popular with tourists, is Ioann Vasilyevich (34 Revolyutsionnaya Ulitsa). Located next to the Marilyn Monroe hairdressers, it serves traditional Russian dishes in a stylish modern decor at about the same prices as Texas. For something cheaper and more informal, try the Premiera Cafe (5 Pervomaisky Bulvar) tucked behind the Volkov Drama Theater. An average meal for one will cost 300 to 400 rubles and the cafe has free Wi-Fi.

Where to stay
The Ring Premier Hotel (5 Pervomaisky Bulvar) is one of the most luxurious hotels in town, popular with business visitors and near the historical city center. Standard rooms start at about 4,000 rubles a night. For foreign visitors missing home comforts, there is a McDonald’s and Irish bar close by. Another common choice amongst business travelers is the Yubileinaya Hotel (26 Kotoroslnaya Naberezhnaya) that overlooks the Kotorosl River. Rooms start at 3,250 rubles a night.

How to get there
Yaroslavl is located 250 kilometers northeast of Moscow and is most easily reached by road or train from the capital. There are dozens of trains leaving Moscow for Yaroslavl every day because the city is on the main rail lines going east and north. The journey takes three to four hours, and a round-trip ticket will set you back 800 rubles or more. Of Yaroslavl’s two stations, the Yaroslavl Central offers the most convenient access to the city center, and most intercity trains stop here. Yaroslavl’s main airport, Tunoshna primarily focuses on cargo but also runs two daily commercial flights to Moscow’s Domodedovo, and one to St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo. The one-hour Moscow flights are operated by Air Management Group on an eight-seat, single-engine Pilatus PC-12. Tickets cannot be booked online, but through a list of agents on the Tunoshna web site. A one-way ticket costs 3,000 rubles. The ideal way to reach Yaroslavl is by boat. Waterways connect Yaroslavl with Moscow (1 1/2 days sailing), St. Petersburg, Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod. Cruises, lasting eight to 15 days, can even take in Astrakhan, where the Volga enters the Caspian Sea.

^ I lived in Yaroslavl twice and have visited it five times. It has been several years since I have been there and as this article states and from what I hear from my friends who are still there many things have changed. They now have 4 McDonald's in the city (when I first went there they had one and the last time I left there were two.) When I was there they only had a few Soviet-style hotels, but now they have 4 star hotels throughout the city. The airport wasn't used by commercial planes when I was there, but now is. The city center also went under a complete face lift for last years 1,000th anniversary of the city's founding. I would love to go back and see how things have changed as well as see the old things I remember. Yaroslavl is a major city close to Moscow that has the feeling of a small town. ^


Hurricane Aftermath

From WMUR 9:
"Hurricane Irene Damage Could Reach Billions"

Hurricane Irene left 27 people dead, 3 million customers without power and potentially billions of dollars in damage from flooding and wind. Hurricane damage could total $7 billion, according to Kinetic Analysis Corp., which estimates the impact of natural and man-made disasters on the economy. Less than half of that -- some $3 billion -- will be covered by insurance, the company said. As of Monday morning, Vermont seemed to bear the brunt of flood damage from the hurricane, with some towns in the southern part of the state entirely covered by water.

^ It seems that once again the media over-reacted. They made it sound like the end was coming because of Irene and in the end it did little besides flood - which can happen in any storm. We lost power here for 27 hours, but have a whole-house generator and so were fine. Our Internet and TV went out for a few minutes, but then turned on. Some small branches fell on our property - which I have cleaned up. Some large branches fell and blocked the main road to my house, but were cut so cars can pass. Down by my mailbox that road was closed for a time because of flooding. As of early afternoon yesterday it was re-opened and the mail was delivered. Many of our town roads were closed yesterday and today most are open. The main road from my town to the next (where all the businesses are) was washed away and closed until today. I was prepared to find a different route into town today, but the town had put down dirt and made the road passable. I'm sure the town will eventually replace the dirt with pavement and then the road will be closed, but for now it is open. ^


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene: NH

From WMUR 9:
"President Grants Request For NH Emergency Declaration"

President Barack Obama granted Gov. John Lynch's request for an emergency disaster declaration to help deal with Hurricane Irene. Federal resources will now be available during the storm. Officials said the National Guard is on state active duty and is ready to provide assistance as needed. All state parks, including beaches on the Seacoast, state forests and trails will close at 6 p.m. Saturday and reopen Tuesday.State police are asking motorists to restrict travel during the day Sunday and at night. The American Red Cross has opened four shelters: Keene Recreation Center at 312 Washington Street in Keene, Nashua High School North at 16 Chuck Druding Drive in Nashua, Bow High School at 32 White Rock Hill Road in Bow and Sanborn Regional High School at 17 Danville Road in Kingston.

The state is recommending residents take these precautions:
•The public should monitor weather information from the National Weather Service, radio and TV broadcasts and Internet sources for information regarding the severity of winds and rains produced by the storm.
•Loose objects in your yard, such as toys and lawn furniture, should be secured.
•As with all major natural events, ensure there is three days supply of water, non-perishable food and other supplies in your home.
•Prepare for power outages by ensuring working flashlights and fresh batteries, and a battery-powered radio. If you have a generator, ensure that it is professionally installed and can be operated without causing a health hazard. Please report outages to your electric utility.
•Prior to the storm's arrival, make sure all storm drains and culverts are clear of debris.
•Stay off the roads during the storm on Sunday.
•Follow the direction of your local emergency officials.

^ It seems we will get hit with either a Category 1 Hurricane or a very strong Tropical Storm. The eye of the storm is supposed to hit an hour southwest of where I live. My mom was supposed to start college classes this Monday, but they were cancelled because of the storm so she won't start for 3 weeks (because of Labor Day.) We are fully prepared here: with a 1,000 gallon propane tank, full-house generator, lots of food/water, full tank of gas in the car, cash and we brought everything in from outside. The only things I can't prepare for are if the Internet and/or TV Satellites go out. We could still watch DVDs, but would have no Internet. Also if the landline phone goes out we would be without a phone because my cell doesn't work within 20 miles of my house. I went to to only market in the next town and it was all boarded up (I have never seen that before.) There were a good amount of people inside, but I remember the guy next to us in line that had a cart full of beer, water and toilet paper and nothing else. Not really what you would call the essentials. We got a few things, but not because of the storm since we had already made our major trip to the market earlier in the week. At least we don't have to go anywhere from now until the storm ends. Since we live on a mountain we don't have to worry about flooding as all the water would go down the mountain - although it may flood the one and only road that leads to our house. It seems that I am home for the duration of the storm. ^


Hurricane Irene: NY

From USA Today:
"Hurricane Irene risk forces first-ever NYC shutdown"

The city's transit system began shutting down Saturday ahead of Hurricane Irene, the first shutdown brought on by a natural disaster. Final scheduled runs on all subway and bus lines started at noon, and it would take about eight hours before the system would be shuttered, city officials said. The systems can't operate in sustained winds higher than 39 mph and shutting down is a precaution, the transit authority said. Arriving flights at the five main New York City-area airports also were halting Saturday as Irene began spinning its way up the Eastern Seaboard, forcing more than 300,000 evacuations and dimming lights at Citi Field and on Broadway. Residents braced for harsh winds, drenching rains and travel woes as Hurricane Irene barreled closer to the city. The storm slammed into North Carolina at Cape Lookout in the Outer Banks Saturday morning. As rain started falling on him at Coney Island, Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged residents who needed to leave to get out - right away.
More than 300,000 residents have been ordered to leave waterfront neighborhoods and the city was poised to shut down its vast transit system, two unprecedented precautionary steps forced by the size and energy of Irene. The brunt of the storm is forecast to arrive Sunday. Many New Yorkers appeared to have heeded the warnings about the approaching storm. Bridges and streets were nearly empty, with few people walking or driving. Aviation officials said they would close the five main New York City-area airports to arriving domestic and international flights beginning at noon on Saturday. Many departures also were canceled. Irene will likely be a Category 1 hurricane when it reaches the city but it will bring high winds and 8 to 12 inches of rain, Bloomberg said.

^ Irene is supposed to hit NYC tonight and tomorrow. Hopefully, it won't make NYC look like all the diaster movies do. ^


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

East Coast Earthquake

From Yahoo News:
"Rare strong quake rattles East Coast"

A strong earthquake rattled the East Coast on Tuesday, sending tremors as far as Canada, shaking the nation's capital and scaring thousands of office workers who fled onto the streets. There were no reports of major damage or injuries from the 5.8 magnitude quake, which was centered in Mineral, Virginia. It was the largest quake in Virginia since 1897 and struck at a shallow depth, increasing its potency. The Pentagon, White House and U.S. Capitol were evacuated in Washington, and thousands of alarmed workers scurried into the streets up and down the East Coast as the lunchtime quake sent items crashing to the floor from store and office shelves."We were rocking," said Larry Beach, who works at the U.S. Agency for International Development in downtown Washington, 83 miles from the quake's epicenter. "It was definitely significant." Federal workers in Washington were sent home early. Washington's National Cathedral, host to state funerals and memorial services for many U.S. presidents, suffered damage with three spires in the central tower breaking off. The U.S. East Coast does not normally feel quakes as strong as Tuesday's. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was of 5.8 magnitude, downgrading an earlier estimate if 5.9. As if a rare strong earthquake were not enough, the East Coast was also on alert for powerful Hurricane Irene which was heading up from the Caribbean and could hit at the weekend. Phone service was disrupted throughout the region as network congestion prevented cellphone users from making calls. In New York, the tremors prompted evacuations of courthouses, City Hall and halted work at the World Trade Center construction site. Control towers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey were also evacuated, and flights were grounded briefly in Washington, Philadelphia and New York. The quake was felt as far away as Toronto. Buildings in Boston were evacuated, and some people who experienced swaying offices said they felt their stomachs turn. In addition to the Virginia earthquake, there were nine tremors in the area immediately around Cokedale, Colorado, near the border of New Mexico, the largest of which was a 5.3 magnitude.

^ I have to say that I didn't feel the earthquake (although I have in the past.) At the time of the quake I was driving on our bumpy, mountain roads that always make the car shake so I didn't now anything happened until I got home. Of course all my friends on Facebook are talking about the quake. The epicenter of the quake is only 10-15 minutes from the house we own and rent out in Virginia (one more reason I never want to ever move back there.) I have heard that people on the West Coast (especially California) are making fun of us. All I have to say to them is that the experts say this kind of earthquake only happens on the East Coast once a century so it was pretty big and that I will be making fun of CA when their state falls into the ocean and they are complaining about it on Facebook. ^


Monday, August 22, 2011

SSA Disability Collapsing

From Yahoo News:
"Social Security disability on verge of insolvency"

Laid-off workers and aging baby boomers are flooding Social Security's disability program with benefit claims, pushing the financially strapped system toward the brink of insolvency. Applications are up nearly 50 percent over a decade ago as people with disabilities lose their jobs and can't find new ones in an economy that has shed nearly 7 million jobs. The stampede for benefits is adding to a growing backlog of applicants — many wait two years or more before their cases are resolved — and worsening the financial problems of a program that's been running in the red for years. New congressional estimates say the trust fund that supports Social Security disability will run out of money by 2017, leaving the program unable to pay full benefits, unless Congress acts. About two decades later, Social Security's much larger retirement fund is projected to run dry, too, leaving it unable to pay full benefits as well.

^ Congress needs to act quickly to fix this so Social Security Disability doesn't run out. The system is broken and running on its last legs. I think we need to have Social Security Disability for those that actually have a REAL disability. Too many people are applying and receiving Disability that do not have one - they are just too lazy to get a job. Social Security should re-evaluate how they give out benefits and check on those that already get them. If a person was getting paid $150,000 a year at a regular job and then applies and gets Social Security Disability at $2,000 a month then it is pretty clear that that person deserves the Disability benefits because no one in their right mind would accept that much in reduction if they could help it. Also, being overweight is not a disability - or at least shouldn't be considered one by the government. People are abusing the system because the system is not being checked regularly. Those that truly are disabled and deserve the benefits are being pushed aside by those that are just too lazy. We need to weed out those that are abusing the system and make sure that the people that are really disabled get all the benefits they are entitled to. It is hard enough as it is to live with a disability and they shouldn't have to "fight" the government because they (the SSA) are throwing away the money to anyone who complains of a headache. ^


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bavaria Restaurant

Last night my mom and I went to try a German restaurant that we recently heard about in Hooksett. It is about 1 1/2 hours from our home. I saw their website online and they recommended having reservations so I called and made them for 6 pm. The restaurant is behind a strip mall. There are no signs visible from the street so I passed it and had to turn around (and then saw a little sign directing you to the back of the strip mall.)It is a very small restaurant and so that's why I think they recommend reservations. We were seated at 5:45 pm and waited for our server - who didn't come until 6 pm after I saw her being told to come to our table by the German hostess. When she finally came and took our order she wasn't any good and she only got worse as the night went on. There were only 2 waitresses in the restaurant and of course we had to get the bad one. I saw the other waitress take care of the table ahead of us and behind us and she was very good and efficient. She told them the daily specials and kept checking on them. We ordered potato pancakes for an appetizer and also our main meal (I had wiener schnitzel and my mom had goulash.) The waitress brought the main dishes out first and said that the kitchen had made a mistake and made both the appetizer and the main dishes together. My mom told her to bring back the main dishes until we had our appetizer first. The potato pancakes had no real taste to them (I have had better at Perkins.) When we were done with that we then had our main dishes. They were good and hot - I was ready to send it back if they weren't hot because they were made at the same time as the potato pancakes, but they were fine. The German hostess came to our table and asked us how everything was. I told her that the food was good, but the service was bad and explained why. She said she had to check with the waitress. She came back and said the waitress had told her that she had been mistaken and thought when we ordered everything at once we wanted it all at once (even though I said that we wanted the pancakes to start with.) It was clear the waitress was constantly blaming everyone but herself - first the cooks and then us. We had dessert (vanilla ice cream with raspberries) and it was good. It took forever for the waitress to bring the check - I was actually standing by the hostess waiting for her to finish talking to have her get the check for us when the waitress came over with it. We paid and left.
I was not impressed at all with the poor service and the excuses for the bad experience. While the food was good the atmosphere created by the waitress made the night a bust. We have lived in Germany and last visited Munich (the hostess and cook are from Munich) last December so we know how German food is supposed to taste and how German service is supposed to be. The food was good, but the service was even worse than in Germany. Over there the service is good up until you want to get the check and leave because then you have to wait and wait and usually go find the person yourself. The Bavaria Restaurant tried to make itself like a typical German restaurant in Munich - ie you didn't get free refills on drinks, but you also didn't have to pay for ketchup like you do in Germany - with good German food, but the bad waitress and the excuses from her and the hostess along with the pricey menu (which wouldn't have made much of a difference had the service been good) made the overall experience a bad one. I'm not sure if I would go back there again, but if I do it won't be for a very long time.

Failed Soviet Coup: 20 Years

From Russia Today:
"Twenty years after the Soviet coup, Russia takes a hard look in the mirror"

On August 19, 1991, Muscovites awoke to the jarring sight of tank treads on the streets and ballet slippers on the television as a counter-perestroika coup had begun. Today, as Russians pause to remember those three days that shook the Soviet Union to its very foundation, a surprising diversity of views about the event and its aftermath are surfacing. Shortly after the failed putsch, which had been carried out with the intention of halting Gorbachev’s perestroika (“restructuring”), many Russians spoke with nostalgia on those exhilarating days; when they stared into the jaws of the Soviet military machine and walked away unscathed. In fact, protesters were shown playing guitars on top of the tanks and sharing cigarettes with the tank crews. Eventually, however, such high-spirited assessments of those daring days of August were dashed by a more realistic reading of the situation. Although many Russians willingly risked their lives for the sake of Mikhail Gorbachev's tentative democratic reforms, few could have predicted that the immediate impact of the coup would be the collapse of the Soviet Union four months later. Although it may seem like a contradiction, Muscovites did not take to the streets with the intention of destroying the Soviet Union. Their goal was to simply support the idea of a more open and free system. But the collapse of the entire Soviet Union is what they got. And this was just the start of an avalanche that would go on to obliterate everything in its path. When the Soviet Union gave up the ghost, it had disintegrated into 15 separate entities; a loose mass of chaos across some of the most sensitive geopolitical real estate on the planet. And as Georgia's act of aggression in 2008 against Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia proved, chaos in Russia's "near abroad" will not go away anytime soon. Here is one description of the bleak situation that confronted the Russian Federation and the former Soviet republics just two years after the Soviet Union suddenly convulsed and died: “The break in economic and cultural ties between the former Soviet republics has been accompanied by wars, terrorism, increased crime, hunger, unemployment, hyperinflation, primitive nationalism, chauvinism, extremism and separatism – and this is only the beginning. In Russia, Ukraine and some Central Asian states, the mortality rate now surpasses the birth rate,” BAS reported. This seems to be what Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had in mind when he described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” With nationalism, extremism and terrorism on the rise, and the national birth rate in the basement, it should be no surprise that an increasing number of Russians are starting to come around to the same opinion.

^ This article is from a Russian media outlet that is financed by the Russian Government so their is complete bias. I included it because it does show what some former Soviets (mostly Russians) feel about the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has been 20 years since the attempted Communist coup and while those of us in the West see the anniversary as a good thing for Democracy many in Russia see it has the worst thing to ever happen (especially considering that those who fought against the Coup did not want the USSR to disappear.) The main reason more Russians, over all the former Soviets, feel disdain about loosing the USSR is not only the free health care, better education and being a world super power, but also because within the Soviet Union the Russians were considered Gods - which is ironic because as Communists they didn't weren't supposed to believe in religion. If you had the word "Russian" as your nationality on your internal Soviet Passport then you could expect only great things in life - unless you spoke out against the government that is. Russians got all the top jobs throughout the USSR and were considered more educated than the other Soviet people. All of that ended when first the August Coup and then the USSR collapsed. Russians went from being on the top to being just ordinary people. They lost their super power status, lost the Cold War, lost their country and lost their prestige around the world. The August Coup seems to fit exactly with all the other coups held in all the "banana republics" around the world - where the extreme military dictatorships try desperately to hold onto power. When the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991 the country stood at the verge of great change. It was now open to the West, it's citizens could travel the world, not worry about Gulags and international money and aid was pouring in. Rather than embrace the change straight-on the powers-that-be resisted change at every step and so now 20 years later many Russians see their lives as worse off than during Soviet times - which has led to a call to bring back the USSR and all the prestige and power associated with it. While I do not think the Soviet Union as it existed from 1917-1991 will ever come back I do see a scaled-down version with more power than the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) currently has. ^


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Health Insurance Labels

From Yahoo News:
"New label to help people pick health insurance"

Insurers and employers will have to spell out plainly the costs and benefits of the health plans they offer starting next year. The rule announced by U.S. health officials on Wednesday is designed to better inform people about health insurance choices with a standard label, which the Department of Health and Human Services likens to the kind on a cereal box. Among other things, the label will tell customers their premium, deductible and out-of-pocket costs, and the costs associated with medical events and procedures, such as doctor visits and breast cancer treatments. Insurers must provide the information before a customer purchases a plan and when there are any changes.

^ I hope this will make understanding health insurance and all the different plans easier. I remember when I was looking for health insurance online: it was like reading Chinese and didn't make much sense. Luckily I had help fro my family in deciding what plan was right for me. ^


NH Best For Kids

From Yahoo News:
"New Hampshire is best place to live for U.S. kids"

New Hampshire is the best place in America for a child to live thanks to lower rates of child poverty, according to a report released on Wednesday measuring health, education and economic security. Holding onto the lead for the ninth time in a decade, New Hampshire once again got top marks for child well-being from the Annie E. Casey Foundation annual Kids Count report. Compared to the rest of the United States, children in the Granite State were more likely to graduate from high school and least likely to have a teen pregnancy, Speer said. New Hampshire ranked among the 10 best states in all categories, including percent of low-birth weight babies, infant mortality rate, child and teen death rates, percent of teens not attending school, percent of children with no parent working and percent of children in single-parent families.

^ Go figure. I wouldn't expect NH to be the top of the list, but I guess it's a good thing that I now live here - even without kids. ^


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Canada's Royal Military

From the BBC:
"Canadian armed forces to be 'royal' once again"

The "royal" prefix has been restored to Canada's air and sea forces, the country's defence minister has said. The Canadian Forces Maritime and Air commands are now known as the Royal Canadian Navy and Air Force. Land Force Command is now the Canadian army.The labels are a nod to the Canadian military's "proud history and traditions", Defence Minister Peter MacKay said. The "royal" label was removed in 1968 in a command restructuring. "Restoring these historic identities is an important way of reconnecting today's men and women in uniform with the proud history and traditions they carry with them as members of the Canadian Forces," Mr MacKay said on Tuesday. "A country forgets its past at its own peril. From Vimy Ridge to the Battle of the Atlantic and from Korea to the defence of Europe during the Cold War, the proud legacy of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force will once again serve as a timeless link between our veterans and serving soldiers, sailors and air personnel." Canada, a former British colony, became a self-governing dominion in 1867 but retained its ties to the British monarchy, represented in Canada by the governor general. Analysts say the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper is one of the strongest pro-monarchy administrations in recent memory. But the change in military nomenclature was met on Tuesday with disapproval from Canadians who say the country should cast off its ties to the British monarchy.

^ I don't see why Canada shouldn't use the title "Royal" in it's military. After all Queen Elizabeth 2 is the Queen of Canada and so her military is a royal one. Plus no one seems to have a problem with the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police.) If Canada was to become a republic and replace the Queen then I could see them also replacing the "Royal" title, but until/if that happens then they should keep and use it. ^


Sunday, August 14, 2011


Tonight was the season finale of "The Next Food Network Star." I picked Jeff and Susie to be the final two and also for Jeff to win. I don't usually like who wins and don't watch their shows, but this time I do (like the winner) and may watch the show. I think Jeff was both constantly funny as well as a good cook while Susie was sometimes good and sometimes too fast and confusing.
I also watched the reunion show - which happened before the finale. I still do not like Mary Beth or Penny, but think Justin B. should have made it further in the show. I'm sure they will have another season and I will watch it. I like all the drama and chaos in the kitchen.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)

I saw this film last night at the movie theater. I have to say that it was really good. I can't compare it to the 1960s/70s movies since I only saw the first "Planet of the Apes" made in 1968 and the remake from 2001, but this one holds it's own. James Franco did a good job as both a man who is trying hard to help people (like his dad) with Alzheimer's as well as a scientist trying to make a name for himself.
I'm not sure why the film takes place in San Francisco though since in the 1968 and 2001 films don't they show a buried Statue of Liberty and that's how the main guy knows he isn't on another planet, but on Earth?
The computer-graphics made the apes look real, but at the same time not-real (if that makes sense.) I liked how the baby ape looked. It made me want to go out and get one for myself - I like monkeys!
All in all this was a good movie and people should watch it. I have included the other movies from the "Planet of the Apes" series to my Netflix so I can see how those stack up.

Berlin Wall Building At 50

From Deutsche Welle:
"Germany marks 50 years since building of the Berlin Wall"

Germany on Saturday commemorated the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall with a memorial service and a minute of silence in the capital in memory of those who died trying to flee to the West. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the East, President Christian Wulff and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit attended a commemoration in the capital, followed by a church service at a chapel built where the Wall stood for almost three decades. "I myself, from when I was seven years old, can remember the horror that the building of the Wall created in my family," Merkel said in a statement. "We were torn from our aunts and grandparents. What is even more unforgettable for me is the happiness the fall of this appalling structure made us Germans feel in 1989." Flags flew at half mast on the parliament and church bells tolled at noon as Germans were called to observe a minute of silence in remembrance of the 136 people who are known to have died in Berlin while trying to cross the border. Historians say this number may have been as high at 700.
Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said the Wall must not be forgotten. "The Wall was part of a dictatorial system, an unjust state," Wowereit said. "It illustrated the bankrupcy of a system people wanted out of. The Wall is now history, but it must not be forgotten. It is our responsibility to keep its memory alive and pass it on to future generations ... so that such injustices never repeat themselves," he added. In 1961, more than 2.5 million of East Germany's 19 million inhabitants had moved to the West. With thousands leaving every day, communist authorities feared the exodus would seriously undermine the state. On August 13, 1961, the East German regime began sealing their border. Soldiers blocked off the streets, cut off rail links and began building what was initially a barbed-wire fence.It became a wall which spread for nearly 160 kilometers (100 miles). In some cases, it cut straight through streets, neighborhoods and public spaces. Known in the East as the "anti-fascist protection wall," it became a symbol for the geographical, ideological and political divide between Europe's democratic West and the communist East controlled by the Soviet Union. The Wall finally fell on November 9, 1989, in a bloodless uprising which saw East Germans allowed to cross freely into the West for the first time in nearly three decades.

^ I have to mention that it seems odd to me that there are so many incidents and periods of modern German history where the first thing the current German Government has to mention is that they lived under a dictatorship and that all the crimes that happened should never be forgotten so they will never be repeated. I don't think there is any other "Western" country in the world that has to constantly say things like that. I guess it is something to stop and think about. As for the Berlin Wall, I do think the Western Allies - the US, the UK and France- gave up on a unified Berlin in 1961 just to appease the Soviet Union (and if history tells us nothing it is that appeasement does not work.) It was the wrong thing to do especially because we were supposed to be the champions of world freedom and individual choice. The fact that thousands of East Germans made their choice known when they left East Germany and went to the West - both before the Wall and after - shows we let them down. If the Western Allies did not want to help Berlin then we should have just left it all to the Soviets. Because we let the Soviets and East German Communists build and keep the Wall for 28 years we not only divided a city, but also are partly to blame for all the deaths that were caused by those who tried to flee. ^


Tomorrow The World (1944)

I recently watched this movie. It about an 11 year old German boy who leaves Nazi Germany and moves to the United States to live with a friend of his father (both his parents are died.) The boy likes to wear his Hitler Youth uniform and preach his racially-motivated talk to everyone. In the end the boy comes to see how evil Nazism is and he changes for the better.
The movie is based on a Broadway play and the fact that it was made in 1944 when World War 2 was still going on is interesting in itself. It is one of the first movies that I know of that openly talk about concentration camps, how the Germans are treating the Jews and shows that the Germans can be reformed from their brain-washing. Some things that I found hypocritical are that while the characters bash the German boy for his racist views about Jews, Poles and others they do not mention that at the same time in the US Blacks were being treated in much the same way in the South (except without the death camps.) Japanese-Americans were also treated badly and interned. I guess since these didn't "help" the war effort it was ok to forget about them. I also didn't like that they called Sign Language the "Deaf and Dumb Language." I find it hard to consider a group of people that can't hear and yet creates an intricate language of their own to be dumb.
On the whole, the movie gives a basic insight into how the US wanted to portray itself both to it's citizens and to the world during World War 2.

One Step Against Obamacare

From Yahoo News:
"Appeals court rules against Obama healthcare mandate"

President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law suffered a setback on Friday when an appeals court ruled that it was unconstitutional to require all Americans to buy insurance or face a penalty. The U.S. Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, ruled 2 to 1 that Congress exceeded its authority by requiring Americans to buy coverage, but it unanimously reversed a lower court decision that threw out the entire law. The legality of the individual mandate, a cornerstone of the healthcare law, is widely expected to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Opponents have argued that without the mandate, which goes into effect in 2014, the entire law falls. Twenty-six states together had challenged the mandate, arguing that Congress had exceeded its authority by imposing such a requirement. But the Obama administration had argued it was legal under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. A divided three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit found that it did not pass muster under that clause or under the power of Congress to tax. The administration has said the penalty for not buying healthcare coverage is akin to a tax. The 11th Circuit did not agree that the entire Obama healthcare law should be tossed out. Many provisions are already being implemented, including allowing children to stay on their parents' health insurance plan until age 26 and banning lifetime coverage limits.

^ I know this ruling doesn't finish anything, but it is a step in the right direction to getting Obamacare completely tossed out. Even Obama admits that without this clause - that every American be forced to get health insurance - his whole plan would fail. Why doesn't Obama stop and think that if Americans who don't have health insurance COULD afford to pay for health insurance they WOULD? It's not rocket-science. He is only going after the elderly, poor and disabled that aren't covered by health insurance or other programs. What idiot would think that forcing these people to pay for health insurance (with money they don't have) or get fined is a good idea? Apparently Obama. I hope this goes to the Supreme Court and they throw it out. I am all for giving every American free health care that the government pays for, but forcing every American to pay for everything themselves is just plain stupid especially with a bad economy. ^


MHT's Scanners

"Full-Body Scanners Coming To Manchester Airport"

Manchester Boston Regional Airport will soon be getting full-body scanners in time for the holiday season, according to the Transportation Security Administration. The scanners have been controversial because they take an X-ray image that some say shows too much. The TSA said it is addressing privacy concerns with update software that shows less detail. "The image is always deleted after it's evaluated. Once the person is clear, the officer presses delete. It can't be recalled, saved, printed," said Ann Davis, from the TSA. Those who don't want to go through the scanners can still opt out and get a pat-down instead.

^ This is the closet airport to where I live and I try to use it whenever I can (especially considering the next closest airport to me is Boston.) I have never had any issues with the TSA at Manchester - knock on wood - and hope that with the new scanners that trend will continue. I don't mind using the full-body scanners. I went through them in Boston. My issues is when you go through the full-body scanner and then the TSA give you the full pat-down because you wore a belt. Can't the scanner see under a belt? That's what happened to me at Boston. The TSA says they will start using new software that will make the scanners more private so that and some common sense from the TSA at the airports should make things better. I just hope they don't get worse at MHT. ^


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Liberty Closing

From Yahoo News:
"Statue of Liberty to close for yearlong renovation"

The Statue of Liberty will close for a year at the end of October as it undergoes a $27.25 million renovation that will make the interior safer and more accessible, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced Wednesday. The renovations, however, are limited to the monument, and Liberty Island will remain open and the statue itself will be mostly unobstructed from view, officials said in a statement.
The National Parks Service, which manages the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, said it will close the monument on Oct. 28, after the 125th anniversary of its dedication. It will be closed the following day, and workers from Joseph Construction Corp. of Pine Brook, N.J., will install "code-complaint" stairways and upgrade electrical and fire suppression systems, elevators and bathrooms. The National Parks Service controls the number of visitors to the crown, saying about 240 people visit each day. About 3.5 million people visit the monument every year.

^ It seems that they are constantly closing the Statue of Liberty. First it was closed for years after 9/11 and then the crown was closed and now this. It seems a little over-kill and lack of planning. I went inside the Statue once - before 9/11 - and it was alright. I guess it is just better to take a picture of the Statue rather than going inside. ^


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

TSA Vs Insulin

From Russia Today:
"TSA takes insulin from pregnant woman"

Every time you think that the TSA has hit the bottom, they manage to hit a new low. This time a Denver couple has filed a formal grievance toward the security agency for seizing doses of insulin from a mother-to-be at Denver International Airport.
"It made me feel upset and made me feel somewhat helpless," said Aaron Nieman, husband of the alleged victim, to the ABC affiliate in Denver. The couple argued that they have traveled the world by plane and have never had an issue with their medical supplies. The incident occurred when Mrs. Nieman was traveling unaccompanied to a baby shower in Phoenix. She was questioned about her items by a TSA agent while going through a security screening. The pregnant mother came prepared if a situation like this were to occur with a doctor’s letter explaining her health condition, but according to the TSA agent Mrs. Niewman was a risk. "I got a bottle of nail polish. I got hair spray bottles. I got needles that are syringes. But yet I can't take through my actual insulin?” she told the ABC affiliate she had asked the agent. “This is a risk for explosives,” the TSA agent allegedly told her. According to Niewman the prescription was properly labeled, but she was still baffled as to why her insulin would be taken away. Despite the TSA agents efforts she was able to get half a vial through security."It was at the bottom of my lunch box…they didn't search it all the way through.” she explained to the media.

^ I think this is completely disgusting. I double-checked the TSA's website and it DOES allow all forms of insulin and needles - when you have the insulin. I have flown all over the world (including Denver)and dealt with many stupid TSA people. I know that if they tried that crap with my I would have raised holy hell. People need to know their rights and need to stand up for those rights when others try to take them away. This incident is clearly an abuse of power on the part of the TSA person. I honestly hope this person is filed and can't get a job anywhere. I have taken all the tests to be employed by the TSA and know first-hand what is required. These are simply under-trained, mostly un-educated people who have a little bit of power. ^


English Riots

From Yahoo News:
"Riots hit UK economy, from corner shops to tourism"

Stores smashed and looted by rampaging mobs, buildings in flames — the damage was to London and other English cities, but the images were beamed around the world.Four days of riots have already cost businesses and insurers hundreds of millions of dollars. The cost to Britain's reputation — and its lucrative tourist trade in the runup to the 2012 Olympic Games — may be incalculable. London's historic center, visited by millions of tourists a year, has been almost untouched by the riots which hit a handful of inner-city and suburban areas. That hasn't stopped images of flaming buildings and shattered shops under headlines like "London's burning" flashing around the globe.

^ This is just plain sad. London has survived: the Great Fire, the German Blitz, IRA attacks and attacks from Al-Qaida and now a bunch of stupid, bored people are destroying the city and other parts of the country. One of my British friends said that the rioters should be sent to Afghanistan because then they could see what it really feels like to be in a war zone. I will take that a step further and say that all the rioters should be sent to live in Third World countries so they can see firsthand just what they have versus what many people around the world have. There is no excuse for these attacks. I don't understand why the British police (especially in London) were not able to regain control after the first, second, third, etc days of the riots. As I said above the city has gone through a lot and the most recent in 2005 so you would expect the police force of a national capital to have the training and man-power to stop something like this right away. The Olympics are next year and if I was going I would worry that the British police are not prepared. They can't even control rioting teenagers so why should we believe they can stop terrorists or any other kind of violence? If these kinds of riots happened in the US I would expect our police to be able to control the situation quickly. ^


Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Fire Escape Is Locked For Your Safety

This book is about Molly Baier travelling throughout the former Soviet Union in the mid 1990s. She went to: the Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Russia. She spoke fluent Russian and so didn't have the language-barrier that most non-Russian speakers do in the former USSR. Her book showed many similarities that many foreigners encounter (including myself.) While I never personally stayed in a Russian or other former Soviet hotel I have heard many stories from friends that have and it seems to fit exactly with what Baier experienced. I especially liked the excuses the hotel officials give as to why the fire escapes are locked (hence the title.)If there is a fire then the floor woman will have the key and unlock it to let you escape to safety. If you question the floor woman's authority then you question everything in society. This one example shows the true mentality of the Soviet system that continues to plague the former USSR.
The overt corruption found in all levels (from the hotel floor women, to the police, OVIR - visa registration office, etc) is also a major stumbling block for true change to occur. Everyone wants to have his/her own little bit of power and will do whatever it takes to hold onto that authority.
Along with the overt corruption is the overt discrimination (at least in Russia.) As the book states, numerous times, there is a 3-tier pricing system on everything from trains to concerts. The Russians pay the lowest rate, former Soviets the middle rate and all other foreigners pay a rate that can be 150% more than what the ordinary Russian pays - and yet the service and quality is the same.
This book shows how Russia and most of the former Soviet Union was in the mid to late 1990s and how it continues today. You get a glimpse into the mindset that can be found from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. On paper things may seem to have changed (especially since it has been 20 years since the Soviet Union collapsed) but reality is completely different.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hybrids Vs Handicapped

From The Union Leader:
"Hybrids trump handicapped at liquor store"

Three reserved parking spaces for hybrid and low-emission cars at the new $3.3 million state liquor store are located closer to the store’s main entrance than the handicapped parking spots, causing at least one lawmaker to call the design a slap in the face to the disabled. “To choose to display such blatant priority for special interests over seniors, wounded veterans and others who have mobility difficulty is deplorable,” said state Rep. Peter Silva of Nashua. “The (liquor) commission owes the public an explanation as well as a plan to remedy this situation immediately.” On Friday, House Speaker William O’Brien sent a letter to the New Hampshire Liquor Commission questioning why it favors hybrid cars over drivers with physical disabilities. “It appears to favor publicity over reality and concern for special interests over concern for the disabled,” O’Brien wrote in his letter addressed to Joseph Mollica, chairman of the liquor commission. The handicapped spaces, according to Mollica, are placed between the front entrance of the store and the public restroom entry at the rear of the facility, which is also a high-traffic area. Silva said: “While many environmentalists have hailed the use of these vehicles as beneficial, there is no documented reason why those consumers who own these automobiles would have any difficulty walking from other areas of the parking lot to gain entry into the liquor facility,” argues O’Brien in his letter to Mollica. “For individuals with handicapped tags, this is a very different story.”
Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau admits that the design concept at the liquor store is unique, and while she appreciates the concern, she believes that disabled residents are being provided with appropriate access the way it is currently laid out. “I am confident that the state and the city have made every effort to make sure the handicap spaces do not disadvantage anyone,” Lozeau said, maintaining that Nashua’s liquor store is one of the busiest in the state, and that many people use the public restrooms there without any intention of purchasing alcohol. Gov. John Lynch’s press secretary referred all questions to the liquor commission.

^ I don't see why the State Liquor Store can't have handicapped parking both in front of the store as well as by the restroom instead of in-between them. I completely agree that no Federal or State building (and in this case the State Liquor Store is owned by the State of New Hampshire)should give priority to anyone except the disabled. While it may be environmentally good to use a hybrid that doesn't mean the people inside the car can't walk the same distance as everyone else. If the hybrid car has a handicapped decal then there would be no problem. I think it is wrong for Gov. Lynch's office to send all questions to the Liquor Commission as his (the Governor's) office is the highest in the State and oversees all State Departments and Agencies within New Hampshire - ie the State Liquor Store/Liquor Commission. Too many people/groups/organizations around the country openly discriminate against the disabled despite the Federal laws preventing it. The laws mean nothing if they are not enforced and people/organizations involved not prosecuted then nothing will ever change and we will continue to treat the disabled as second-class citizens. ^


US Credit Lowered

From USA Today:
"S&P downgrades U.S. credit rating from AAA"

The U.S. lost its esteemed AAA credit rating after being downgraded by Standard & Poor's Friday, eroding the elite standing it has held in global markets for more than 70 years. The nation's credit rating was cut to AA+ after S&P said the compromise made by Congress and President Obama this week to cut spending and boost the debt ceiling "falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics." "We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process," the ratings firm said. The U.S. Treasury tried to get S&P to reconsider its ratings downgrade Friday. Treasury officials pointed out that S&P's original analysis of the debt deal's $2 trillion in savings was flawed. The rating agency adjusted its analysis but still downgraded the U.S.' credit rating, according to a government official familiar with the matter. The source declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

^ I don't know who S&P are or why they get the authority to issue credit ratings to countries (or Moody's.) I have heard a lot of different views on what the downgrade really means. Some people say it won't do much and others say we will be back to a barter system. I guess the only thing to do now is wait and see. ^


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Soldiers' Benefit Reductions

From Yahoo News:
"US troop retirement, healthcare may be cut"

Cuts in health care, retirement and benefits for the military are all potential targets for cuts as America struggles to rein in spending, the top U.S. military officer told anxious troops on two warfronts. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that while the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are going down as U.S. forces withdraw over the next few years, the latest debt agreement will demand defense cuts. Nothing is off the table, he said. From the Marines battling a fierce insurgency in southwestern Afghanistan to soldiers packing up to leave Iraq, troops quizzed Mullen about rumors that military retirement benefits and health care would be affected as part of the debt compromise being hammered out in Congress. "If we're going to cut spending, we have to go where the money is," Mullen told several hundred troops gathered at the Al Faw Palace on the soon-to-be-shuttered Camp Victory outside Baghdad on Tuesday morning. Well more than half of the defense budget, he said, is spent on personnel issues, ranging from pay and benefits to bonuses used to recruit and retain needed expertise. While acknowledging he still did not know the total cut in defense spending that will be required by the legislative package, Mullen repeated his contention that the debt is one of the biggest threats to national security. But he vowed that Pentagon leaders will continue to ensure that troops on the front lines get the equipment and services they need to fight, and that any cuts will be done carefully. "I have an expectation that there will be defense cuts as part of this," said Mullen. "I just don't know what those will be." In response to direct questions about retirement benefits from troops, Mullen said he does not expect immediate changes. Currently, military members who retire after 20 years receive 50 percent of their pay, and that percentage inches up as additional years of service are tacked on. About 13 percent of those who enlist actually make it to the 20-year mark. Cuts to retirement and other benefits have long been avoided by Congress members leery of going after the troops they send to war. But Mullen said the chiefs of the military services have talked about the issue, and he said there may be a review of those issues. He said the service chiefs would recommend that if such a change were considered, troops with some years of military service would be grandfathered in, so they would not be affected. He did not specify how many years of service that would be. While promising a balanced approach that looks at spending on military people, operations and equipment, Mullen predicted that bonuses will be harder to get and poor-performing procurement programs will be eliminated.

^ I don't understand how the Federal Government can think of making military cuts while we are still actively involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. No cuts should be made or considered unless/until the soldiers are withdrawn from the war zones (all of them.) By cutting spending now while we are in 3 wars stretches our forces even more to the extreme. As for cutting retirement benefits I think that all those that are currently in the military or are in when/if the new rules are made official should be "grandfathered" in and receive the benefits they were promised when they enlisted. It is one thing to change the rules and make those that enlist after the fact comply with them and another one to take them away from those that were promised one thing and are then given sub-standard benefits. The Federal Government, military and American public do very little as it is to help soldiers and their families. We should be doing more and not less to support the men and women who keep us safe. ^


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Logan's SPOT

From The Boston Herald:
"TSA to put Hub fliers on the spot"

Boston’s TSA screeners — part of a security force whose competency has come under fire nationwide — soon will be carrying out sophisticated behavioral inspections under a first-in-the-nation program that’s already raising concerns of racial profiling, harassment of innocent travelers and longer lines. The training for the Israeli-style screening — a projected $1 billion national program dubbed Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques — kicks off today at Logan International Airport and will be put to use in Terminal A on Aug. 15. It requires screeners to make quick reads of whether passengers pose a danger or a terror threat based on their reactions to a set of routine questions. But security experts wonder whether Transportation Safety Administration agents are up to the challenge. “I’m not convinced that the TSA has good enough people to make the Israeli approach work on a large scale,” said Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor. Under the SPOT program, as passengers hand over their boarding passes and identification, specially trained agents will ask three to four questions — from “Where have you been?” to “Do you have a business card?” and “Where are you traveling?” — while looking for “micro expressions,” such as lack of eye contact, that might hint at nefarious intent. Suspicious individuals will be pulled aside for more questioning, full-body scans and pat-downs. If the encounter escalates, agents will call in state police. At Logan, about 70 agents — all with college degrees — are undergoing training by an international consulting firm that includes a four-day classroom course and 24 hours of on-the-job experience.

^ I have my doubts that this program will work - especially at Logan. I have flown in/out of Logan many times and have dealt with very stupid TSA people including supervisors - especially in Terminal E (the International Terminal.) I don't really think a 4 day course is long enough to make these people experts in following the proven Israeli method. As to my answers to the 3 questions I could be asked: "Home", "No" and "Outta here." I wonder if that would get me extra screening. On a serious note: I will try and keep an eye on whether this program works or not. Hopefully it will work and the security at Logan (and elsewhere in the US) will be improved along with Customer Relations between the public and the TSA. ^


Itay's Veil Ban

From the BBC News:
"Italian committee approves face veil ban bill"

An Italian parliamentary committee has passed a draft law which will ban women from wearing veils which cover their faces in public. The bill, which has the backing of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's central-right coalition, would prohibit the wearing of a burka, niqab or any headwear which covers the face. Belgium and France have already banned the full-face veil in public. If passed, those who defied the ban would face a fine of 150-300 euros ($213-426; £130-260) and some kind of community service, according to Ansa news agency. For those who forced someone else to wear the covering, the penalty would be 30,000 euros and up to 12 months in jail, Ansa reports.

^ I have said it before and I will continue to say it. I completely agree with countries (like Belgium and France) that ban the veil and fully support others (like Italy) that want to do the same. It is not a question of being Anti-Muslim - since many Muslim countries - like Turkey - limit the veil and/or burqa in their country. It is a question of basic human rights and public safety. I hope the US will see all the countries that are or planning to ban the veil in public and enact the same laws here. ^


Debt Deal Official

From Yahoo News:
"Obama signs debt bill after final Senate vote"

The Senate emphatically passed emergency legislation Tuesday to avoid a first-ever government default, rushing the legislation to President Barack Obama for his signature just hours before the deadline. The vote was 74-26. Obama signed the bill little more than an hour later. Tuesday's vote capped an extraordinarily difficult Washington battle pitting tea party Republican forces in the House against Obama and Democrats controlling the Senate. The resulting compromise paired an essential increase in the government's borrowing cap with promises of more than $2 trillion of budget cuts over the next decade. Many supporters of the legislation lamented what they saw as flaws and the intense partisanship from which it was forged. In the end, it was a lowest-common-denominators approach that puts off tough decisions on tax increases and cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare. The measure would provide an immediate $400 billion increase in the $14.3 trillion U.S. borrowing cap, with $500 billion more assured this fall. That $900 billion would be matched by cuts to agency budgets over the next 10 years.

^ Well it's now official. I don't think this deal does anything major (except stop the US from defaulting on it's loans.) The major issues of Medicare cuts and taxes were pushed to the back burner. We still need to keep Obama, the Democrats and the Republicans accountable for putting us in this situation in the first place - the first time in our nation's history. I hope that the new government committee will be able to tackle the major issues, but I am not going to hold my breath. ^


Monday, August 1, 2011

US Troop Strength

People (especially ordinary Americans) tend to forget just how many soldiers are in the US military and how many are both in war zones as well as those stationed overseas. Here are some numbers (they do not include their families stationed with them.)

Combat zones
Iraq - 45,600 US personnel as of December 31, 2010.
Afghanistan – 103,700 US personnel as of December 31, 2010.
Libya - 8,500 US personnel as of May 22, 2011.

Djibouti, Africa – 3,500
Kenya - 42
Egypt (Cairo) – 52
Egypt (Sinai Desert) - 500

South Korea – 28,500
Japan – 32,803
Philippines - 95
Diego Garcia - 311
Jakarta, Indonesia - 27
Singapore – 125
Thailand – 96
Malaysia - 15

Australia - 140
Marshall Islands - 17
New Zealand - 5

Germany – 53,951
Souda Bay, Greece - 386
Italy – 9,855
United Kingdom – 9,825
Spain – 1,286
Norway - 81
Sweden - 12
Belgium – 1,328
Portugal – 826
Netherlands – 579
Greece – 363
Greenland - 126
France - 55
Poland - 100
Turkey – 1,594
Kosovo - 830

Middle East
Qatar – 8,029
Bahrain – 1,495
Kuwait - 10,548
Oman - 36
United Arab Emirates - 96

Western Hemisphere
Antigua - 2
Colombia - 123
Saint Helena - 3
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – 932
Netherlands Antilles - 10

United States

There are 1,084,548 personnel on active duty in the United States and its territories:

Contiguous United States – 882,201
Transients – 52,527
Hawaii – 34,838
Guam – 2,836
Puerto Rico - 137
Alaska – 19,408

^ People should remember that each number is a person that is putting their life on the line so we can go about our everyday lived. ^


US Free Control

From Yahoo News:
"U.S. says insurers must fully cover birth control"

U.S. health insurance companies must fully cover women's birth control and other preventive health care services under Obama administration rules released on Monday.
The mandate from the Health and Human Services Department represents a landmark decision in a decades-long debate on women's health issues that has pitted family planning groups against conservative organizations. The guidelines, a product of last year's healthcare overhaul, go into effect on Monday, and require insurers to do away with co-payments on coverage of preventive care services for women in all new plans beginning in August 2012. The newly required coverage also includes free screenings for gestational diabetes, testing for human papillomavirus in women over 30, counseling for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and screening for domestic violence.

^ I agree with all but one of the new coverages entitled to women. I do not believe that women should get free birth control and that we have to pay for it (mainly through government insurance for those on Mediaid to those on welfare.) If a woman can't afford her own birth control then she shouldn't be having sex. The other mandated coverages make complete sense since they are about the physical or emotional health of the woman, but the free birth control doesn't fit in either of those categories. I believe that birth control should be legal and available to women 18 and up, but not that it should be free and taxpayers have to pay for others' sex life. ^


Kalinigrad EU Permits

From the Moscow Times:
"EU Proposes Simplifying Travel From Kaliningrad"

The European Commission has proposed making it easier for Kaliningrad residents to visit relatives and do business in the EU border region, the European Union executive said Friday. Kaliningrad, which has a population of nearly 1 million, became the only such exclave within the EU when a 2004 EU enlargement brought in both Poland and Lithuania. The European Commission has proposed allowing the states bordering Kaliningrad to negotiate bilateral agreements to make border crossings easier for people living within 30 to 50 kilometers of the EU frontier. This would involve issuing special permits for regular crossings instead of visas, for which fees could be waived. "All people living within the Kaliningrad enclave will enjoy the benefits of this amendment," commission spokesman Michele Cercone said. "Usually they have the necessity for family, cultural or economic reasons to move across the border quite often; sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a few days." Four similar local border traffic agreements are already in force, covering Hungary and Ukraine, Slovakia and Ukraine, Poland and Ukraine and Romania and Moldova. Others covering Poland and Belarus, Latvia and Belarus, Lithuania and Belarus, and Norway and Russia are expected to enter into force soon.

^ I can understand Kalinigrad residents getting free permits to visit family in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (since there were once part of the Soviet Union and now are in the EU and Schengen Area) and for transmitting to Russia proper - through Poland, but other than that I don't believe they should get any other special privileges unless ALL Russians get the same visa-free status. I don't see that happening anytime soon - either from the EU or the US. The free permits shouldn't include travel to all the Schengen countries (like I said above only the border countries.) ^