Saturday, September 29, 2012


I don't know why my posts aren't showing in the main area, but they are on the side-bar. They can still be read if you click on them there.

Friday, September 28, 2012

CDN Language Rules

From Yahoo Canada:
"New language rules for would-be Canadian citizens to begin in November"

Would-be Canadians will be required to submit tangible proof of how well they speak English or French beginning this November. The new requirements were unveiled last year and will see citizenship applicants given three ways to prove their proficiency. Applicants will have to submit results of a government-approved third-party language test, show they've finished high school or post-secondary education in English or French or prove they've received an appropriate level of language education via government-funded training programs. Knowledge of French or English has been a requirement to obtain citizenship since 1977, but Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had sought to find an objective way to prove proficiency. It used to be assessed as part of the general citizenship test and related interview. That will still be part of the criteria but before would-be citizens even get to that step, they'll have to submit the evidence as part of their overall application. The changes come into effect as of November 1. An analysis published in April found the new rules could have the effect of decreasing the number of citizenship applications, as people hold back in order to seek out language training. The government analysis also suggested the changes will be costly: as much as over $70 million for applicants and close to $40 million for governments who'll need to increase free language training programs. But the analysis said the benefits to society and to individual applicants that will come with stronger language skills outweigh the costs.

^ I see no problem with these new language rules. Canada has two official langauges: English and French and making would-be citizens prove they know one of these is a good idea. The US has no official, Federal langauge (although most states made English their official state language) and yet the citizenship tests are done in English. ^

Unisex Uniforms

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Army uniform designed for women now for all"

For decades, female soldiers have had to wear combat uniforms designed with the male body in mind. But turnabout is fair play. The Army is now testing on men combat uniforms designed for women. Some 300 male soldiers wore the new “Army Combat Uniform — Alternate” last month on bases in Georgia and Texas to fit-test the garments. Results are expected next month, according to officials at the Program Executive Office Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Va. The uniform — with narrower shoulders, a slightly tapered waist, a slightly flared hip, a more spacious seat and an elastic waist — has been in the works for three years. The Army Uniform Board approved funding to research a female-only uniform in 2009. Last year, Maj. Sequana Robinson at PEO Soldier told The Associated Press that the new uniform — by then in prototype — was “a better fit to a woman’s dimensions based upon the measures of a woman’s body.” But in March, the uniform board approved the uniform for both sexes. “The Army is not moving forward with a female-only ACU,” PEO officials, who declined to be identified, wrote in an emailed response to written questions. Instead, the ACU-A will be authorized to be worn by all soldiers. The coats and trousers will come in more than a dozen sizes. According to PEO Soldier officials, they might appeal to “smaller statured male soldiers.”

^ I don't see why they don't have a uniform for women and one for men. The military discriminates against women by not allowing them in combat and so there is already an offical gender difference. Also, there are different dress uniforms for men and women (women have to wear skirts.) It seems pretty dumb and hypocritical to say you aren't doing something so you don't single-out one gender over the other and yet have official policies in place that do just that. ^

Japan's Past

From Yahoo:
"SKorea: Japan must educate its people about WWII"

 South Korea's foreign minister said Thursday that Japan's wartime past will overshadow relations between the two staunch U.S. allies until Japan educates its people about crimes committed during colonial rule. In an interview with The Associated Press on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said: "We are victims of Japanese colonial rule."
Kim, speaking a few hours before "serious" talks with Japan's foreign minister, also said South Korea would not compromise in its dispute over the tiny Dokdo islands, called Takeshima by Japan, which has further strained ties. "When the Japanese government claims DokdoBut he said South Korea recognizes its shared interests with fellow-democracy Japan, such as coping with North Korea and its nuclear ambitions. Both Japan and South Korea play host to tens of thousands of U.S. troops. Kim said Seoul wants to expand relations with Japan, including in military cooperation, but only if South Korean public sentiment allows it. In June, they put on hold an intelligence sharing pact after it provoked an outcry in South Korea. Japan occupied the Korean peninsula for 35 years until the defeat of fascist forces in World War II and also occupied much of China. Japan issued a formal apology in 1993 over its use of Korean women as sex slaves by its soldiers during the war, but has failed to convince South Korea it is truly contrite. Kim accused Japanese politicians of denying war crimes and said Japan's failure to educate its people properly about the past was the root cause of its various territorial disputes over islands in the region — including with Russia and Asia's premier power, China. "It's in sharp contrast with what Germany did to get the support and respect from the neighboring countries" after World War II, Kim said. "If Japan does it, I'm sure they can (get) respect from neighboring countries."
^ The South Koreans are right. Germany (well West Germany until 1990 since East Germany played the victim) took responsibility for what it did during the war and worked hard to improve relations with the countries it occupied and/or fought while Japan has done little. I saw a program on TV that said that the war is virtually skipped over in Japanese schools. That reminds me of a scene from "Family Guy" where they are in Munich on a bus and Brian asks the German guide why the war was left out of the tour and the guide screams "There was no war. We were all on vacation. Ask Poland." Of course that's not true, but this sums up what the Japanese portray to their own people and the rest of the war by not admitting or educating on the things they did during the war. ^

USPS Default: Round 2

From Yahoo:
"US Postal Service to default on second $5B payment"

The U.S. Postal Service, on the brink of default on a second multibillion-dollar payment it can't afford to pay, is sounding a new cautionary note that having squeezed out all the cost savings within its power, the mail agency's viability now lies almost entirely with Congress. In an interview, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the mail agency will be forced to miss the $5.6 billion payment due to the Treasury on Sunday, its second default in as many months. Congress has left Washington until after the November elections, without approving a postal fix. For more than a year, the Postal Service has been seeking legislation that would allow it to eliminate Saturday mail delivery and reduce its $5 billion annual payment for future retiree health benefits. Since the House failed to act, the post office says it's been seeking to reassure anxious customers that service will not be disrupted, even with cash levels running perilously low.
^ This is nothing new, but I thought it was worth mentioning again since the problem hasn't been fixed and won't go away on it's own. ^

Different Accents

From Life's Little Mysteries:
"Why Do Americans and Brits Have Different Accents?"

In 1776, whether you were declaring America independent from the crown or swearing your loyalty to King George III, your pronunciation would have been much the same. At that time, American and British accents hadn't yet diverged. What's surprising, though, is that Hollywood costume dramas get it all wrong: The Patriots and the Redcoats spoke with accents that were much closer to the contemporary American accent than to the Queen's English. It is the standard British accent that has drastically changed in the past two centuries, while the typical American accent has changed only subtly. Traditional English, whether spoken in the British Isles or the American colonies, was largely "rhotic." Rhotic speakers pronounce the "R" sound in such words as "hard" and "winter," while non-rhotic speakers do not. Today, however, non-rhotic speech is common throughout most of Britain. For example, most modern Brits would tell you it's been a "hahd wintuh." It was around the time of the American Revolution that non-rhotic speech came into use among the upper class in southern England, in and around London. According to John Algeo in "The Cambridge History of the English Language" (Cambridge University Press, 2001), this shift occurred because people of low birth rank who had become wealthy during the Industrial Revolution were seeking ways to distinguish themselves from other commoners; they cultivated the prestigious non-rhotic pronunciation in order to demonstrate their new upper-class status."London pronunciation became the prerogative of a new breed of specialists — orthoepists and teachers of elocution. The orthoepists decided upon correct pronunciations, compiled pronouncing dictionaries and, in private and expensive tutoring sessions, drilled enterprising citizens in fashionable articulation," Algeo wrote.The lofty manner of speech developed by these specialists gradually became standardized — it is officially called "Received Pronunciation" — and it spread across Britain. However, people in the north of England, Scotland and Ireland have largely maintained their traditional rhotic accents. Most American accents have also remained rhotic, with some exceptions: New York and Boston accents have become non-rhotic. According to Algeo, after the Revolutionary War, these cities were "under the strongest influence by the British elite."

^ This is pretty interesting and something I'm sure most people (British or American) didn't know. I knew this because I took a "Story of English" class in college and it covered this. ^

TSA Theft

From the TSA Blog:
"TSA Has Zero Tolerance on Theft - iPad Theft"

ABC ran a story yesterday on how an iPad left behind at one of our airports was tracked via GPS to an Officer’s home two weeks later. The Officer is no longer with TSA.   We are well too aware of how the actions of a few can influence the perception the public has of our agency. It’s truly a shame, because the majority of our workforce meets the expectations set forth to them - integrity, professionalism and hard work. The reputation of TSA is adversely affected by instances like this one, where employees do not display integrity. To put theft at TSA in perspective, between May 1, 2003 through September 2012, a total of 381 TSOs have been terminated for theft, which represents less than 1/2 of one percent (0.4%) of officers that have been employed by the agency. This extremely small percentage does not reflect the dedication and professionalism of our workforce as a whole.
^ I think this is a joke on the part of the TSA. I have flown around the country and used countless US airports and found many "professional" TSA employees acting anything but. While I haven't had anything stolen (knock on wood) I have had things taken in front of me. One incident was a container of aspirin. I went through the screening and it was in my carry-on. The screener said I couldn't take it through (it's not a liquid so don't ask me why.) Rather than miss my international flight I gave it to him and when I was sitting down to put on my shoes I saw the guy open the aspirin and take some. He just wanted it for himself. On top of that I have personally dealt with very arrogant screeners who try to overlook their own policies. I usually carry a printed copy of them with me just in case, but haven't shown them to anyone yet (I am saving that for something major.) I took the TSA tests and passed all of them several years ago and was even offered a job by them, but luckily I was offered another job and took that one. The TSA can say they always follow the rules, but those who fly know the truth. They just got caught on tape in this case. ^

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Catalonia Independece?

From USA Today:
"As Spain sinks, many in Catalonia want out"

This historic region on the Mediterranean -- a center of European industrial design and tourism -- has special status as an autonomous district of Spain known as Catalonia. And as financial problems mount for Spain, many here want to get a whole lot more autonomous. The Spanish government on Thursday announced another round of austerity measures aimed at building confidence that deficit reduction targets can be met. With Spain entering its second recession in four years, some Catalans say they are getting little for the river of tax revenue they send to Madrid annually and are pushing for outright independence.  While secession may sound like an unlikely event, Spain is taking it seriously given the country's heavy reliance on this economic powerhouse. "Financially speaking, Catalonia is perfect for Spain," said Osvald Calzada, 32, a copywriter from Lleida, in the western part of the region. "Catalonia is the cow they constantly milk, only giving her enough grass to survive."
King Juan Carlos has called for national unity as the governor of Catalonia announced Tuesday that elections will be held in November, two years ahead of schedule in what is widely seen as a referendum on the region's independence. The louder demands for independence in Catalonia are the latest divisive consequence of the European debt crisis, analysts say. As budget deficits grow, officials have had to slash funds for education, health services and public sector workers. More austerity measures were announced Thursday.  Anger was on display for all to see on Sept. 11, Catalonia's National Day, when an estimated 1.5 million people filled the streets bearing signs that said, "Catalonia, the next independent state in Europe," and "We want a divorce because we are not happy in this marriage." People sang the Catalan national anthem and marched through the city in one of the largest demonstrations in the history of Spain and aimed at Madrid. A recent media poll showed that 51% of Catalans would vote in favor of separating from Spain, the highest percentage ever marked on a survey. Talk of Catalonia independence in this financial climate prompted Spain's royal family to speak up, a rare move. The king, the head of state, has diplomatic duties and traditionally stays out of politics.  "In these circumstances, the worst thing we can do is divide our forces, encourage dissent, chase chimeras and deepen wounds," King Juan Carlos said. The king knows there is much at stake: If Catalonia were to leave, Spain would lose an economic engine that contributes 20% of its economy and holds one of the most important commercial harbors in the Mediterranean. The European Union has already warned Catalans that if they leave Spain they will have to seek readmission to the bloc, a process that, according to Buesa, could take years with all EU members unanimously required to approve the candidacy including Spain.

^ This is interesting as I have family there. I think that in the 21st Century any region (big or small) that thinks it can do better if they became a country then they should be allowed to do so if the majority of the people in that region vote for it (whether it is Catalonia, Quebec, Scotland or Virginia.) In most cases the region will not prosper, but they should have the right to try and fail if they want. I thought it was funny how the EU said that if Catalonia became a country they would have to ask permission from all EU member countries-  including Spain - to rejoin. The EU is a crumbling organization that is so far in debt that member countries - like Spain - have to make budget and other cuts to sustain itself. That is one major factor in people supporting Catalonia leaving Spain right now. If they gain their independence they should wait to rejoin the EU (otherwise the problems from before would simply continue.) ^

Criminal Cops OK

From RT:
"Supreme Court rules citizens cannot use force against cops breaking law"

Russia's Supreme Court has ruled that no one has the right to use force against the police – even if the officers are abusing citizens or breaking the law themselves. Today the Supreme Court has set a new standard of behavior for participants in the gatherings that have become common as of late in Moscow. The country's highest judicial authority decided that officers whose actions are legitimate should not be subject to sanction under the Russian Criminal Code. However, former Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev had stated months ago that it was permissible to fight back against a policeman who was in violation of his use of power. This was an incredulous statement to many, and was widely misinterpreted to mean that a person could resist arrest. In case a person is caught by the police, he has the right to remain silent and to request a lawyer, and can notify his relatives. The detainee is allowed to request a copy of the arresting document. Those rules came after numerous cases filed this year by people arrested during the spring-summer Marches of Millions in Moscow. The attitude toward the police in Russian society is controversial, especially after a row of police scandals and revelations of widespread corruption in law enforcement.

^ It seems the Police Reform in Russia is geared towards protecting the Police and not the ordinary citizens that have had to deal with corruption and bribes for decades. The police force of any country is not only there to prevent criminal acts, but also to instill a decree of respectability in the citizens and if nothing is done to prevent the police that do illegal things than that respect is gone. ^

Bacon Shortage

From Yahoo:
"Worldwide bacon shortage ‘unavoidable"

Is it pork-ageddon? Britain's National Pig Association has sounded the alarm that the world should brace for an "unavoidable" bacon and pork shortage next year. The cause of the trouble is high pig-feed costs caused by what it describes in a press release as "the global failure of maize and soya harvests." The organization notes that new data shows that pig herds are declining at a significant rate, not just in Britain, but around the world. The way out of this coming catastrophe is to subsidize pig farmers to stem the loss of their herds, says the industry group. The organization has also launched a "Save Our Bacon" campaign, which encourages consumers to buy British pork products It's not just Europe that will be seeing shortages: The U.S. will also face a bacon shortage. The Guardian reports that the cost of bacon has doubled since 2006, and record droughts are to blame.

^ Guess I should start stocking-up since I love bacon and sausage. ^

Show Me Your Papers!

From Moscow Times:
"Passports to Be Required for Domestic Travel"

Anyone traveling beyond the borders of their home region will have to show a passport and will be entered into a police database under a new decree issued by the Transportation Ministry.  The new rules, published in the government's Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Wednesday, will bar travel companies from selling tickets to inter-regional destinations on any form of transportation to customers who cannot present a passport or another form of valid ID.  Russian citizens may present either an internal or foreign-travel passport, while foreign citizens should present the passport issued by their state. The decree does not mention what children without passports should do, but the list of valid documents includes birth certificates.  Carriers will be required to pass personal information on all passengers on inter-regional journeys to a centralized database accessible to "law enforcement and regulatory authorities," according to the decree.  The move aims to to improve security by allowing police and other agencies to trace the movements of anyone who gets on a bus, train, plane or river boat. Travel companies, which will be required to start passing information to the database before the decree comes into force next July, will face fines for failure to deliver data.  "If it's just forgetting to pass on the information, they will face a fine or possibly the seizure of vehicles on which there is no information about passengers," Vladimir Chertok, deputy head of the Federal Transportation Agency, told Rossiiskaya Gazeta. Companies thought to be deliberately concealing information will face criminal charges.  Domestic air travel and most long-distance train routes already demand presentation of passports for travel.

^ I am all for needing ID to get a ticket because they do that in many countries (including the US.) It's the fact that all the information and travel details will be sent to the FSB (the modern-day KGB) and into a central database that brings up a lot of red flags and questions. I guess if you live or visit Russia and want to travel and don't want the Russian Government to track your every move you should use your own car and carry a lot of cash - which isn't hard since credit cards aren't always accepted in most places in Russia. ^

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Combined Embassies: 2

From Yahoo Canada:
"Foreign ministers downplay shared Canada-U.K. embassies"

Foreign ministers for Canada and the U.K. downplayed an agreement to share space in embassies around the world, amid criticism from opposition MPs in Ottawa on Monday. Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague was in Ottawa to announce an agreement between the two countries that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says will start with embassies in Haiti and Burma, and will allow civil servants to consider doing so in more countries as the need arises. "We are not moving to merge all of our embassies and consulates around the world. We are not going to be sharing ambassadors or trade commissioners," Baird said. "Each country will continue to have complete independence on policy and Canadian public servants will always protect and promote Canada's interests and Canada's values. In select locations, this simply allows Canadian diplomats to do their good work faster and at a lower cost to Canadian taxpayers." Hague said the two countries were expanding on an agreement announced last fall when British Prime Minister David Cameron was in Ottawa. "We are two countries with large diplomatic networks ... but we can't be everywhere," Hague said. "This looks to increase our co-operation to maximize our reach and impact on how two vibrant foreign ministries with common goals in many respects can work together — common values, shared values ... It is about speed and flexibility, practicality, saving the taxpayer money in both countries." Hague said the agreement doesn't change the two countries' independence from each other. NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said it was confusing that the government argued the plan was an innovative approach to foreign affairs and announced it with much fanfare, but then said it's more about sharing administrative services.  The arrangement, he (Baird) said, will allow a British diplomat to have an office at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti, where Britain now has no presence. At the same time, Canada can send a foreign service officer to Burma to work out of the British Embassy until the Canadian mission is established. Those are the only two countries included so far in the agreement.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair accused the government of being unable to represent Canada abroad. "If the Conservatives won't stand up for Canada in the world, why do they expect that the British will do it for us?" he said. "It's all very nice to be nostalgic for the great British empire, but there are limits."
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper for avoiding the UN General Assembly this week. "If we have such a wonderful independent foreign policy, why isn't the prime minister of Canada discussing that foreign policy in front of the United Nations this week like so many heads of state?" he said. The NDP also raised the issue of French-language services and whether they would be available to francophones through the British missions. The British press broke the news yesterday that Canada and the U.K. would be announcing they will co-ordinate some embassies to share administrative costs. "The U.K. and Canada have signed an agreement on closer working that will provide a framework for our missions overseas to co-operate more closely, sharing admin costs for example, where appropriate to promote U.K. and Canadian interests. This declaration sets out a number of areas to further co-operation, including co-location, crisis response, security and consular co-operation," the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement to CBC News. "This is part of the government’s drive to deepen our relationships and improve our engagement with a number of Commonwealth allies across the full spectrum of foreign policy issues." There is speculation in the U.K. that the agreement is meant to compete with efforts by the EU to co-ordinate its own diplomatic work. Hague denied that. "Obviously we work very closely with other European foreign services ... and there are places where we sometimes share a compound with some of the other foreign ministries of the European Union," he said. This won't be Canada's first foray into sharing services. Canada and Australia have worked together in 26 locations around the world for years.

^ I think it makes sense for Canada and the UK to share embassies in certain countries (such as Haiti and Burma) as long as they only do what they say here: where a Canadian foreign officer will make all the decisions for a Canadian citizen overseas or a foreigner wishing to go to Canada and a British foreign officer will do the same for a British citizen overseas or a foreigner wishing to go to the UK. If that is the case then there shouldn't be an issue with French-language services since all Federal government employers  - including those working at embassies - have to know both English and French. I am now curious to know the details of the Australian-Canadian agreement (and think it should be the same as the UK one.) ^

Soviet Debt

From the Moscow Times:
"$785Bln Soviet Debt Might Spoil Rating"

If all the outstanding debts of the Soviet Union were treated on par with the government’s other debts, that would significantly weaken the country’s balance sheet and trigger a sovereign credit rating review, Fitch said Tuesday. Credit rating agencies sat up and took notice when the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Russian government to pay damages to Yury Lobanov, 74, earlier this year in compensation for bonds he purchased in 1982, when Leonid Brezhnev was in power. Fitch was “not about to make any immediate judgment” that could affect Russia’s credit rating, said
But if the authorities stopped differentiating Soviet debts from post-Soviet ones, it would officially add 42 percent of gross domestic product to public debt and push total debt to 55 percent of GDP, Rawkins said at a conference in Moscow. There is approximately $785 billion worth of outstanding Soviet debts, according to the government. Rawkins said the real amount was “unquantifiable.” The reappearance of Soviet debt-related issues is potentially problematic for Russia’s sovereign rating, which determines the cost of borrowing on international markets. Top officials regularly cite the low level of state debt as one of the country’s macroeconomic strengths.

^ When the Russian Federation declared itself the sole successor to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in December 1991 it agreed to take the good and the bad that the USSR came with and this high debt is part of the bad. I'm curious to see what Fitch and other organizations decide. ^

Monday, September 24, 2012

Swiss Vote Well

From the BBC:
"Swiss reject full ban on smoking in public spaces"

Voters in Switzerland have rejected a total ban on smoking in enclosed public places at a referendum.
Although Geneva voted slightly in favour, results from the country's other 25 cantons showed a majority of voters rejected a full ban. Hotels, restaurants and bars are allowed rooms for smokers In some cantons, more than 70% of voters rejected the ban, according to Geneva newspaper La Tribune de Geneve. Geneva itself bucked the trend by supporting the ban by 52% to 48%. La Tribune de Geneve suggests voters rejected a full ban because they did not want to force the smaller cantons into changing their local laws, and because of resentment at perceived state interference in people's lives.

^  Good for the Swiss. I am glad that people are starting to wake-up and stop making laws that openly discriminate against smokers. I have said it before and I will continue to say it: either make producing, selling and using cigarettes completely illegal or stop making anti-smoking laws that discriminate. I am all for non-smokers (I don't smoke) not having to breathe the smoke from others and with all the new technology today they don't have to with sealed areas/rooms, etc, but I will never understand how local, state and federal governments can enact and enforce anti-smoking laws that take away smoker's rights and regulate them to second-class citizens. We all need to take a hard look at the Swiss and change our anti-smoking laws. ^

Catholics: Pay Or Get Out!

From BBC:
"German Catholics lose church rights for unpaid tax"

Germany's Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax. A German bishops' decree which has just come into force says anyone failing to pay the tax - an extra 8% of their income tax bill - will no longer be considered a Catholic. The bishops have been alarmed by the number of Catholics leaving the Church. They say such a step should be seen as a serious act against the community. All Germans who are officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a religious tax of 8-9% on their annual income tax bill. The levy was introduced in the 19th Century in compensation for the nationalisation of religious property. "If your tax bill is for 10,000 euros, then 800 euros will go on top of that and your total tax combined will be 10,800 euros," Munich tax accountant Thomas Zitzelsberger told the BBC news website. Catholics make up around 30% of Germany's population but the number of congregants leaving the church swelled to 181,000 in 2010, with the increase blamed on revelations of sexual abuse by German priests.  Alarmed by their declining congregations, the bishops were also pushed into action by a case involving a retired professor of church law, Hartmut Zapp, who announced in 2007 that he would no longer pay the tax but intended to remain within the Catholic faith.

Tax on Germany's Christians

  • 25 million Catholics
  • Tax worth 5bn euros (2010)
  • 24 million Protestants
  • Tax worth 4.3bn euros
  • German population 82 million

Unless they pay the religious tax, Catholics will no longer be allowed receive sacraments, except before death, or work in the church and its schools or hospitals.  Without a "sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused," the decree states. Opting out of the tax would also bar people from acting as godparents to Catholic children. "This decree at this moment of time is really the wrong signal by the German bishops who know that the Catholic church is in a deep crisis," Christian Weisner from the grassroots Catholic campaign group We are Church told the BBC.

^ This is just plain disgusting. To think that any religion would do this is just plain wrong. There are Catholic churches all around the world that do not receive this kind of money and they are doing fine. The focus of the Church shouldn't be money (which is a "worldly possession") but the spiritual well-being of a person. If I was living in Germany I would stop paying the tax which would mean they wouldn't allow me to go to church and I would be fine with that. It seems these German Catholic bishops have become too greedy and do not portray the true definition of a Catholic and so it isn't worth going to church to hear them. I wonder if these stupid policies are known to the Pope - who is German? If he knows and allows them then he is just as guilty as the bishops, priests and others who follow these practices. The Catholic Church has been hit with many scandals lately and they should be doing their best to encourage those who want to continue going to church to do so instead of forcing them out. As far as I'm concerned the German Catholic bishops are basically saying pay us to get into heaven. That didn't work in the past when people protested the Catholic Church and their "bribes into heaven" and created Protestants. I don't see it working now either. They should learn a thing form their past considering that they are Catholics and on top of that - Germans. ^

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Airline Food

From Yahoo:
"World's Worst Airline Food Goes Digital"

If you've ever been on a plane, you've more than likely eaten airline food. Although the march of technology has made flying cheaper and faster for travelers, on the issue of cuisine it seems as if many airlines have stood still. Rock solid meatloaf, slimy salmon, freeze dried eggs-terrible airline food has often been the stuff of legend. Before the Internet, dissatisfied travelers were forced to satiate their food fury with angry complaints to friends, family, and, in the most extreme cases the airlines themselves. Thanks to some websites however, in-flight meals are now being held to a higher degree of accountability. Sites like AirlineMeals allow users to take pictures of their inflight dinners,and post them along with a rating of 1 to 10 and a description of the meal. The site, which was set up ten years ago, now has meals from over 600 airlines from all over the world ranging from the best to the worst.

^ This is an interesting website. It helps people decide which airline they will choose for their next flight since a picture is worth a thousand words. ^

Combined Embassies

From the Globe and Mail:
"Canada and Britain to run combined embassies"

A new agreement to open joint British-Canadian diplomatic missions around the world will be signed Monday in Ottawa. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will official sign the agreement tomorrow afternoon. It’s a step designed to expand the global presence of both countries will keeping costs down.  “We have stood shoulder to shoulder from the great wars of the last century to fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and supporting Arab Spring nations like Libya and Syria. We are first cousins,” Mr. Hague said in a written statement released to the media Sunday. “So it is natural that we look to link up our embassies with Canada’s in places where that suits both countries. It will give us a bigger reach abroad for our businesses and people for less cost.” As part of the agreement, in countries where Canada has a diplomatic presence but Britain does not, the two nations will share the embassy or consulate – and vice versa. Britain will make similar arrangement with Australia and New Zealand, in which all four commonwealth nations can pool their resources. “As the Prime Minister said when addressing the Canadian parliament last year: ‘We are two nations, but under one Queen and united by one set of values,’” Mr. Hague said in his statement.

^ I have some questions that need to be answered before I decide if I like this idea or not. If under this new agreement Canada and Britain will merely share the same building with their separate staff (and a British consular officer won't decide if a foreigner will get a visa to Canada or vice versa) then I think it is a good, cost-saving idea. If, however, a combined embassy will be staffed with either a British staff or a Canadian staff, but not both then I think it is a bad idea. It took Canada hundreds of years to finally be able to make their own decisions in Ottawa without first getting London's approval and has only had that right for 30 years and now it looks like that could be slipping away with these combined embassies. I will keep looking for more information. ^

Free Health Care Not Free

From Yahoo Canada:
"Fraser Institute report says healthcare insurance costs Canadian families over $11,000 a year"

As Canadians, we often like to boast about our free healthcare system. After all, it's one of the things that distinguishes us from our American cousins. But, as a new report by the Fraser Institute points out, public healthcare insurance is far from free. According to the 'The Price of Public Health Care Insurance: 2012 Edition,' released Thursday, the average Canadian family of four now pays approximately $11,400 in taxes for health care insurance. That's a jump of over 59.8 per cent (before inflation) from 2002. "There's a widespread belief that health care is free in Canada. It's not; our tax dollars cover the cost of it," Nadeem Esmail, co-author of the report, said in an accompanying press release. "But the way we pay for health care disguises exactly how much public health care insurance costs Canadian families and how that cost is increasing over time." The study claims that the cost of healthcare insurance is increasing at a far greater rate than other expenditures: Since 2002, the cost of clothing only jumped 11.2 per cent, the cost of food only jumped 14.6 per cent and the cost of shelter went up by 25.4 per cent. To make matters worse, as an earlier Fraser Institute study pointed out, Canadians aren't getting value for their money. In a paper released in April, the right-wing think tank noted that Canada spends 11.4 per cent of its GDP on health insurance expenditures — ranking it the sixth highest for health spending in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 2009 — the most recent data available — Canada ranked 19th out of 28 countries for the number of practicing physicians per 1,000 people, 12th for number of nurses per 1,000 people and tied for last for the number of acute care beds per 1,000 people. The lesson for Canadians, according to the Fraser Insitute, is that we need more transparency and more choice in our system.

^ This is not surprising. Just because a government claims something is free doesn't mean it really is The health care system in Canada is broken (so much so that if you leave the country for longer than several months you have to wait several months after coming back home to Canada to be able to get health insurance.) It shouldn't matter how long you are out of the country as long as you continue to be a Canadian citizen the whole time  It's clear that Canadian health care needs to be dramatically reformed from the Federal level  to the Provincial level to the hospitals and doctor's offices themselves. ^

6 Million Will Be Fined

From Yahoo:
"Tax penalty to hit nearly 6M uninsured people"

Nearly 6 million Americans — significantly more than first estimated— will face a tax penalty under President Barack Obama's health overhaul for not getting insurance, congressional analysts said Wednesday. Most would be in the middle class. The new estimate amounts to an inconvenient fact for the administration, a reminder of what critics see as broken promises. The numbers from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office are 50 percent higher than a previous projection by the same office in 2010, shortly after the law passed. The earlier estimate found 4 million people would be affected in 2016, when the penalty is fully in effect. That's still only a sliver of the population, given that more than 150 million people currently are covered by employer plans. Nonetheless, in his first campaign for the White House, Obama pledged not to raise taxes on individuals making less than $200,000 a year and couples making less than $250,000. And the budget office analysis found that nearly 80 percent of those who'll face the penalty would be making up to or less than five times the federal poverty level. Currently that would work out to $55,850 or less for an individual and $115,250 or less for a family of four. Average penalty: about $1,200 in 2016. "The bad news and broken promises from Obamacare just keep piling up," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who wants to repeal the law. Starting in 2014, virtually every legal resident of the U.S. will be required to carry health insurance or face a tax penalty, with exemptions for financial hardship, religious objections and certain other circumstances. Most people will not have to worry about the requirement since they already have coverage through employers, government programs like Medicare or by buying their own policies. The Supreme Court upheld Obama's law as constitutional in a 5-4 decision this summer, finding that the insurance mandate and the tax penalty enforcing it fall within the power of Congress to impose taxes. The penalty will be collected by the IRS, just like taxes. The budget office said the penalty will raise $6.9 billion in 2016.
The Supreme Court also allowed individual states to opt out of a major Medicaid expansion under the law. The Obama administration says it will exempt low-income people in states that opt out from having to comply with the insurance requirement. Many Republicans still regard the insurance mandate as unconstitutional and rue the day the Supreme Court upheld it.

^ 6 million people is a lot of people no matter how you spin it. I only hope that someone else is elected this November and does something to change or repeal Obamacare before it comes into full effect in 2014. I have health insurance and yet do not believe the Federal Government has a right to force Americans to get it or be fined (not matter what the Supremem Court said.) ^

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More APO Woes

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Medication from US won't be mailed to APOs in Germany"

Prescription medications addressed to military post office boxes in Germany soon will be flagged by U.S. postal clerks stateside and not sent. William Kiser, the top postal officer for U.S. forces in Europe, said that U.S. post offices would stop sending the medications and a variety of other items the German government has banned or restricted from import. The target date is Jan. 1, Kiser said. Postal clerks will match restriction codes for the items with ZIP codes. Late last year, German authorities began confiscating mailed medications, U.S. officials said, enforcing a law the Germans say has been on the books for years. U.S. authorities only learned recently, after packages were confiscated, that the mailed medications they thought were legal — covered under the status of forces agreement and viewed as domestic mail — were not. The longtime practice had been encouraged by Tricare, the military health insurer, as both less expensive and more convenient, especially as more military health centers closed along with their garrisons. The German Health Ministry said mailing medications from the U.S. to military post office boxes — or any individuals — violates the law, just as it’s illegal for residents in Germany to receive items including meat products, caviar, counterfeit trademarked items, such as fake brandname handbags, vitamins and body-building supplements. The German government declined to make an exception, saying that prescription medications from the U.S. could be sent only to military authorities, such as medical commands and their hospitals and pharmacies. As a result of the German ruling and new restrictions, military pharmacies will be beefing up their formularies to carry most drugs that beneficiaries had been getting in the mail, said Army Col. Richard Jordan, executive director of Tricare’s Eurasia-Africa office in Sembach.
^ I said this before and I'll continue to say it: this is just plain wrong. It is one thing for the Germans to say it's not allowed and another for the US Governmnet to go back to the practices where ALL military (APO) mail went on a military plane and thus avoided German Customs and then went by military trucks to the American bases. Then the German Government would never get a hold of the American mail and American soldiers and their families could get the medicines they need. Someone should tell the Germans that we saved them (well half of them) for several decades and could have just let the Soviets take the whole country. It's times like these (when I see how the Germans are treating us) that I wish we had just left the country in 1945 and the Soviets had taken it over completely. I really hope the US Military and the US Government stands up (like we have done in Germany in the past) and gets these new rules reversed. I could understand if this had always been German policy, etc but it hasn't and is now affecting the men, women and their families that protect us. ^

Russia Nixes USAID

From Moscow Times:
"Russia Closes USAID Office"

The United States will close the Russia office of the U.S. Agency for International Development at the request of the Russian government, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday, sparking fears from some aid recipients that they won't survive. But U.S. officials insisted that they would find new ways to promote democracy and civil society without a USAID office here. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton notified the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday that the USAID office would be shut down, a senior U.S. administration official said. The Russians had told Clinton that they wanted the office closed during her visit to Vladivostok for the APEC summit at the beginning of this month, and the Foreign Ministry followed up on the request with a diplomatic note on Sept. 12, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. USAID has been given a deadline of Oct. 1.  "The Russian government has decided that they want the activities of USAID to cease in Russia, and that's their decision, and we have responded to that decision today," the U.S. official said.  The Kremlin, reeling from unprecedented protests among the middle class since disputed State Duma elections in December, has accused the U.S. State Department of fomenting the unrest and tightened the screws on nongovernmental organizations like Golos, the country's only independent elections watchdog, which exposed fraud during the Duma vote and subsequent March presidential election. A major portion of Golos' budget comes from USAID. USAID, which has a mandate to support U.S. foreign policy, has spent more than $2.6 billion over the past 20 years in Russia, encouraging economic and democratic reforms, backing health and environmental initiatives, and promoting stability in the Caucasus. The Russia office is staffed by 13 Americans and 60 Russians, according to a U.S. government official. It currently works with 57 Russian partners. The last time the Russian government pushed out a U.S. government program also occurred on Putin's watch. In 2002, Peace Corps volunteers were declared unwelcome after the Federal Security Service accused them of snooping on Russian officials instead fulfilling their self-stated mission of promoting world peace and friendship through volunteerism.

^ It seems that just when you think Russo-American relations are starting to get better (ie with the recent visa changes) one country - this time it's Russia - decides to do something like this. The Russian Government must be really scared of the protesters if they are taking this step. ^

Reagan's Plaque

From the USA Today:
"Berlin unveils plaque to Reagan's 'Wall' speech"

Berlin's mayor has unveiled a plaque commemorating the 25th anniversary of U.S. President Ronald Reagan's call to the Soviets to "tear down" the wall that then divided the German city.
Reagan's 1987 address in front of Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate came at a time when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was encouraging reform in the Eastern bloc. In his speech Reagan said dismantling the Berlin Wall would be a powerful gesture for peace. Two-and-a-half years later the wall fell after East German authorities granted their citizens the right to travel to the West. Mayor Klaus Wowereit presented the bronze plaque Wednesday saying it reminds Berliners of a "dark time" that has been overcome.
^ There are two times in Berlin's history where a US President stood up for what is right. The first happened in 1961 with JFK's "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" speech and in 1987 with Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech. It showed both the USSR and the world that we were serious about protecting both Berlin and Capitalism against Communist occupation/invasion. It is only fitting that Berlin made a plague honoring Reagan and all he did for the city and the world. ^

Georgian Prisons

From the BBC:
"Georgia prison abuse film prompts staff suspension"

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has suspended the country's entire prison staff, amid protests over video footage showing prisoners apparently being abused by guards. Prisoners are shown being badly beaten, one sexually assaulted with a broom. Several prison officers, including high ranking officials, have been charged and arrested, an official told the BBC. Relatives of inmates have tried to storm the prison where the alleged abuses took place. In an announcement live on national TV, Mr Saakashvili said police would be deployed in all jails. "There must be zero tolerance to any violations of human rights, because we are building a civilised and humane country, rather than discipline based on violence." The film showing abuse in the Gldani prison No. 8 was broadcast on TV on Tuesday. It triggered overnight protests in Tbilisi and also in the southern city of Batumi, Georgian media say.
In the capital, anti-government demonstrations were held in various places, including outside the national broadcaster's headquarters.  Angry protesters have been demanding the resignation of Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, the minister in charge of prisons. On Wednesday, Ms Kalmahelidze said she had decided to step down because her efforts to protect human rights in prisons had "proved insufficient".

^ There should have been more government oversight in their prisions and these incidents should never have happened, but I'm glad that Georgian Government is doing something about this and they seem to take this seriously. Hopefully, all those involved will be punished. ^

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Russia's Repatriation

From the Moscow Times:
"Russia Puts Renewed Hope in Repatriation Program"

President Vladimir Putin has revised the state's repatriation program, simplifying the process for former compatriots to move back to Russia and bring relatives along with them. But analysts doubt that the changes will significantly alter migration flows. Earlier this year, the president said that if the demographic decline is not reversed, Russia's population would shrink from the current 143 million to 107 million by 2050. The simplified repatriation program, to take effect in perpetuity as of Dec. 31, will even cover relocation costs, Alexander Zhuravsky, head of the Regional Development Ministry's interethnic relations department, told Rossiiskaya Gazeta in an interview published Monday.  The program, whose revision Putin signed Friday, also gives returning expatriates more leeway in choosing a region of residence and lowers their income tax rate from 30 percent to the 13 percent that regular Russian residents pay, Zhuravsky said.  Regaining Russian citizenship will take a few months, Zhuravsky said, and participating families can now bring along grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers, sisters and even adopted children. He emphasized that the program was not just for ethnic Russians. However, analysts told The Moscow Times that changes in the program were useful but insufficient and would not allow the government to significantly boost immigration.
Konstantin Zatulin, director of the Commonwealth of Independent States Institute think tank and former chief of the State Duma's CIS Committee, said the new program offers "fractional improvements" but is "not revolutionary" and "doesn't remove all the problems." The main problem is that Russian citizenship can be obtained only after the repatriate gets permanent registration, after he or she buys a residence, which can be expensive, or moves to a temporary migration center, which not every region has, Zatulin said. The federal government reimburses regions for only a portion of the expenses incurred for receiving repatriates, and regional budgets are often too meager to support the program, Mukomel said. Federal funding of the program has fallen from several billion rubles annually in 2008 and 2009 to a total of 1.2 billion rubles ($40 million) in 2010 and 2011, then only 200 million rubles ($6.5 million) planned for this year, Mukomel said. On Oct. 15, the Foreign Ministry will hold a 6 million ruble tender for a study on migration sentiment among compatriots abroad in order to predict how many would relocate to Russia, RIA-Novosti reported, citing the website for state purchases. The survey will question Russians living in Germany, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Moldavia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.  According to a February article in Komsomolskaya Pravda, Putin set a task for the government to boost immigration by about 300,000 people annually through attracting "compatriots living abroad" and "qualified foreign expats." According to Zhuravsky's Rossiiskaya Gazeta interview, 32,000 former compatriots moved back to Russia under the program last year. So far this year, 22,000 more have returned, and 50,000 more are expected by year-end, he said. About 80,000 people have been repatriated under the program since its inception in 2006, RIA-Novosti reported Friday, citing the Federal Migration Service. More than 60 percent were under 40 years old. More than half were ethnic Russians, while about 16 percent were Ukrainian or Armenian, 4.6 percent Tajik and 2.5 percent Tatar, Zhuravsky said. The program has also reached out to Tatars and Karelians in Finland, Germans in Kazakhstan and Germany, and Setos in Estonia. But Mukomel of the Russian Academy of Sciences pointed out that the program failed to meet its 450,000-person expectation. Most of the repatriates relocated to central Russia instead of faraway regions that most needed the labor force, and many repatriates were children, single mothers or retirees who did not get jobs. Repatriates were allowed to come to only certain regions, and only if they agreed to certain jobs that were often so poorly paid that even illegal CIS migrants would not take them, Mukomel said. The revised program focuses on repatriates who would start their own business or relocate their business from abroad. Repatriates can also come to Russia to study or do business, instead of being hired by a certain employer as the program previously required, said Zatulin of the CIS Institute. Almost all 83 Russian regions will now take part in the program, but repatriates who settle in priority areas, such as far eastern border territories, would get a "considerably" larger allowance from the state, Zhuravsky said. Repatriation programs in Germany and Israel are based on ethnicity, but in Russia this is not possible because, being the successor of the Soviet Union, it is a multiethnic country, he said.

^ I hope these revisions will allow those former Soviet citizens that were born before the USSR collapsed in December 1991 that want to move to Russia (the USSR's successor) to do so without the problems they currently are having. They should be allowed to move to any region they want to especially if they have historical family ties to a certain region. Other countries (like Germany and Israel) have a more organized system of reparation that Russia should look at and see what provisions from these other programs can be added to their own to speed the red tape and make things easier for everyone. ^

Maple Leaf In Quebec

From the Globe and Mail:
"Canadian Flag back in Quebec Assembly  - for now"

The Canadian flag didn’t spend long in the closet. The Maple Leaf made its return to the ornate Red Room of the Quebec legislature today, less than 24 hours after it was pulled out as members of the pro-independence Parti Québécois took the oath of office. The red and white flag is back for the swearing-in of Quebec’s other main parties: François Legault’s Coalition and, later in the day, the Opposition Liberals Whether it remains there, in the long run, is another issue. Since1985, the Maple Leaf, depending on the government of the day, it has stood next to the Quebec flag in the room used for ceremonial events and committee meetings. The Maple Leaf was restored Tuesday morning and was placed next to the Fleur-de-lis as members of the Coalition party were sworn in. Mr. Legault cast his decision to leave the flag there as a practical matter Tuesday. “I think it’s not a priority for Quebeckers,” Mr. Legault said. “I think that right now, the last thing people would like to see at the national assembly is a battle over flags.” Mr. Legault said he wants to bring Quebeckers together and having a battle over flags isn’t the way to go. He said it’s his understanding that to permanently remove the flag there would have to be a motion tabled in the national assembly or the government would have to propose a change – but it would have to be accepted by the majority. The red-and-white flag was restored nine years ago when Jean Charest’s Liberals took office and it was placed next to the Quebec flag at the Speaker’s chair in the Red Room, which used to house the now-disbanded upper legislative chamber. While the Canadian flag was gone, for the PQ yesterday, there was still no escaping the Queen. Every member of the PQ caucus swore an oath to the monarch, which is a prerequisite for taking office in Canada. This after the party had complained during the campaign about the increased presence of the Crown under the Harper Conservatives. The PQ was elected two weeks ago with a minority mandate. It now holds a four-seat advantage in the legislature after winning the popular vote by less than one percentage point.

^ This is very stupid for the PQ to do. There are more pressing matters that the Province has to deal with (student protests, etc) and it seems the PQ is focusing on the flag because they can't do anything about the more important issues. Every Province in Canada should be required to have the Maple Leaf and the Provincial flag  hang off every Provincial building. Regardless what the PQ wants, Quebec is still part of Canada. Until they hold another referendum and if the majority of people vote to leave Canada then the Maple Leaf should be removed. I like that they still have to swear an oath to the Queen of Canada - which as a constitutional monarchy Canada should always require.  ^

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Google Allows Clip

From Yahoo:
"Google says it won't take down anti-Muslim clip"

 Google is refusing a White House request to take down an anti-Muslim clip on YouTube, but is restricting access to it in certain countries. The White House said Friday that it had asked YouTube to review whether the video violated its terms of use. Google owns YouTube, the online video sharing site. YouTube said in a statement Friday that the video is widely available on the Web and is "clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube." The short film "Innocence of Muslims" denigrates Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. It played a role in igniting mob violence against U.S. embassies across the Middle East. And it has been blamed for playing a role in violence in Libya, where the U.S. ambassador and three others were killed though the exact cause of the attacks is under investigation. While the protests intensified over the video, YouTube blocked access to the clip in Libya and Egypt. YouTube cited "the very sensitive situations" in those two countries. Later YouTube also blocked access to the video in India and Indonesia after their governments told Youtube the video broke their laws. The controversy underscores how some Internet firms have been thrust into debates over the limits of free speech. In its Friday statement, YouTube said that outside of Libya, Egypt, India and Indonesia, the video will remain on its website.
^ Good for Google. In the civilized, Western countries the video should be allowed as a form of free speech. Anything that does not openly call for any violence should be allowed. As for the countries where the video is banned it's clear that the people there don't have real freedom of speech. People are saying that the video led to the violence across the Middle East and Muslim World, but in fact the people in those countries that have become violent don't need an excuse to attack and kill us. They are merely terrorists that are using the video (even though most have never seen it) to get what they already had planned - done. Obama needs to stand alongside Google and show his pride (if he has any) in being an American and our fundamental right to freedom of speech. He also needs to stand up as Commander-in-Chief and protect our embassies, consulates and people threatened by violent mobs around the world. ^

DADT Repeal: 1 Year

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Furor fades a year after military's gay ban lifted "

They are images Americans had never seen before. Jubilant young men and women in military uniforms marching beneath a rainbow flag in a gay-pride parade. Soldiers and sailors returning from deployment and, in time-honored tradition, embracing their beloved — only this time with same-sex kisses. It's been a year now since the policy known as "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed, enabling gay and lesbian members of the military to serve openly, no longer forced to lie and keep their personal lives under wraps. The Pentagon says repeal has gone smoothly, with no adverse effect on morale, recruitment or readiness. President Barack Obama cites it as a signature achievement of his first term, and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, says he would not push to reverse the change if elected in place of Obama. The main downside, Peters said, is that the Pentagon doesn't officially recognize same-sex couples when allocating medical coverage, housing and travel allowances, and other benefits. The Defense Department says it is studying the possibility of extending marital benefits to same-sex couples, but has announced no time frame. Otherwise, the Pentagon has been emphatic in declaring the repeal a success.

^ I guess everything didn't come falling down once the stupid "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy  - made by Bill Clinton - was repealed. I don't see how the military can officially allow homosexuals to serve openly and yet refuse their partners and spouses the same benefits that a heterosexual couple gets. ^


From Yahoo:
"Complaints about automated calls up sharply"

So much for silence from telemarketers at the cherished dinner hour, or any other hour of the day.
Complaints to the government are up sharply about unwanted phone solicitations, raising questions about how well the federal "do-not-call" registry is working. The biggest category of complaint: those annoying prerecorded pitches called robocalls that hawk everything from lower credit card interest rates to new windows for your home. Amid fanfare from consumer advocates, the federal do-not-call list was put in place nearly a decade ago as a tool to limit telemarketing sales calls to people who didn't want to be bothered. The registry has more than 209 million phone numbers on it. That's a significant chunk of the country, considering that there are about 84 million residential customers with traditional landline phones and plenty more people with cellphone numbers, which can also be placed on the list. Telemarketers are supposed to check the list at least every 31 days for numbers they can't call. But some are calling anyway, and complaints about phone pitches are climbing even as the number of telemarketers checking the registry has dropped dramatically. Government figures show monthly robocall complaints have climbed from about 65,000 in October 2010 to more than 212,000 this April. More general complaints from people asking a telemarketer to stop calling them also rose during that period, from about 71,000 to 182,000. At the same time, fewer telemarketers are checking the FTC list to see which numbers are off limits. In 2007, more than 65,000 telemarketers checked the list. Last year, only about 34,000 did so. Despite those numbers, the FTC says the registry is doing an effective job fighting unwanted sales calls.

^ I, too, am fed up with getting these calls. It's clear the Do Not Call List doesn't work because the government doesn't fine or take these things seriously. There needs to be stronger punishement and enforcement.  ^

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Attacks Overseas

From the Stars and Stripes:
"US embassies step up security after Libya attack"

U.S. embassies across the world ramped up security Thursday following an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, as Muslims angry over an anti-Islam film stormed the U.S. mission in Yemen and clashed with police near the American mission in Cairo. President Barack Obama ordered increased security at U.S. sites worldwide after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed Tuesday in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The Benghazi attack followed the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo after the trailer from an American-made film, "Innocence of Islam," went viral on YouTube. Libyan officials said militants used civilians protesting the film as cover for a violent assault timed for the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. As violence continued Thursday, embassies from the Philippines to the Middle East warned Americans to be on guard for more protests, especially on Friday, the main Muslim day of prayer when religious fervor runs high. In Yemen, hundreds of protesters chanting "Death to America!" stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in the capital, Sanaa, and burned the American flag. Yemen's president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, quickly apologized to the U.S. for the attack and vowed track down the culprits. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, police stopped a march by about 400 people who burned a U.S. flag several miles (kilometers) from the U.S. Embassy, where higher security was evident. And in Cairo, where protests against the film began, police fired tear gas Thursday at youths who hurled stones about 100 yards (meters) from the U.S. Embassy there.  U.S. officials said the heightened security would be maintained indefinitely following the attack in Libya.

^ People should stop going on about the movie and focus on all the stupid, violent idiots (most can't even read and and haven't even seen the movie, but only heard about it) around the world being allowed to go around and attack us. Where are all the security forces in those countries - Egypt, Yemen and Libya? Where are our forces? We have freedom of speech and while I may or may not agree with the movie that's not a reason to go attack and kill others or allow it to happen. They always say they are for peace and yet their actions speak louder than their words. We have every right to protect our people and way of life. ^

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

11 Years: 9/11

From Yahoo:
"For Sept. 11 anniversary, a turning point passed?"

Americans paused again Tuesday to mark the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks with familiar ceremony, but also a sense that it's time to move forward after a decade of remembrance. As in past years, thousands were expected to gather at the World Trade Center site in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., to read the names of nearly 3,000 victims killed in the worst terror attack in U.S. history. President Barack Obama was to attend the Pentagon memorial, and Vice President Joe Biden was to speak in Pennsylvania. But many felt that last year's 10th anniversary was an emotional turning point for public mourning of the attacks. For the first time, elected officials weren't speaking at the ceremony, which often allowed them a solemn turn in the spotlight, but raised questions about the public and private Sept. 11. "I feel much more relaxed" this year, said Jane Pollicino, who came to ground zero Tuesday morning to remember her husband, who was killed at the trade center. "After the ninth anniversary, that next day, you started building up to the 10th year. This feels a lot different, in that regard. It's another anniversary that we can commemorate in a calmer way, without that 10-year pressure."  In previous years, thousands of family members would attend the ceremony at ground zero. Fewer than 200 family members, clutching balloons, flowers and photos of their loved ones, had gathered by Tuesday morning at the Sept. 11 memorial, which opened to the public a year ago. Commuters rushed out of the subway and fewer police barricades were in place than in past years in the lower Manhattan neighborhood surrounding ground zero. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama plan to attend the Pentagon ceremony and visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Biden and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar are expected to speak at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, at the site where the hijacked United Airlines plane went down. The National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum — led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as its board chairman — announced in July that this year's ceremony would include only relatives reading victims' names. The point, memorial President Joe Daniels said, was "honoring the victims and their families in a way free of politics" in an election year. Some victims' relatives and commentators praised the decision. "It is time" to extricate Sept. 11 from politics, the Boston Globe wrote in an editorial.
But others said keeping politicians off the rostrum smacked of ... politics.

^ While I can understand the families wanting a more personal and politics-free memorial I get the feeling that many ordinary Americans have "moved-on" and do not want to remember what happened. Just like the soldiers who continue to die and get wounded in Afghanistan the events of 9/11 seem to be a thing of the ancient past. It has only been 11 years and yet you would think it had been 100. This time last year nearly all my friends (over 100) on Facebook posted something whereas so far today only two (of course I did.) It seems that the whole country has ADHD and can only focus on things for a second before moving on to the next. I know there are many events and things to deal with in life, but certain events - such as 9/11 - should always be in the back of our mind. Everything we do today can be traced back to that day 11 years ago. When you go to an airport, take a train, go to a state or Federal building, watch the news, get a driver's license and do hundreds of other everyday things you are doing things that were and continue to be impacted by 9/11. I can understand people not wanting to have the events thrown at them overtly everyday, but I can't understand why, on the anniversary, people can't stop and openly remember. ^

Monday, September 10, 2012

Latvia Loves Euro

From Yahoo UK:
"Latvia: the land that still loves the euro"

The European single currency may currently be unloved by many of the people using it thanks to the ongoing debt crisis on the continent, but there remains one small outpost of euro-enthusiasm. Far away from the corridors of the European Commission and European Central Bank, the Baltic state of Latvia is gung-ho about swapping its currency, the lats, for the euro. The plan is to meet all the Maastricht criteria governing euro adoption by the end of this year in order to qualify to switch from the lats to the euro in January 2014. "We have to be ready, regardless of what happens with Greece or in other countries," Finance Minister Andris Vilks told AFP. "Everything that's happening at the moment is good, whether it's fiscal union, in banking or whatever. We cannot miss this opportunity."
Struck by the world's deepest recession in 2008-2009, Latvia imposed a draconian austerity drive in part to ensure it could hold its course to meet the Maastricht criteria, which are meant to ensure robust public finances. Another goal was to maintain the lats' peg to the euro, a longstanding plank of Latvia's economy policy. But even if Latvia meets all the criteria so routinely flouted by existing eurozone members, the European Commission and ECB must both give their assent. The fact that neighbouring Estonia was admitted to the troubled eurozone in 2011 under similar circumstances would make any refusal highly controversial. While getting the euro is the obsession of Latvia's policy-making elite, the public appears sceptical -- on the surface at least. An August survey of more than 1,000 Latvians by the Latvijas Fakti pollster showed that just 35 percent supported adopting the euro, with 59 percent declaring themselves against and six percent undecided. However, most analysts agree that what looks like a high degree of euro-scepticism may not be as strong as it first seems. University of Latvia expert Ivars Ijabs says the question of euro adoption is seen less as an issue of economics than of reinforcing a European identity and national security -- further anchoring the former Soviet-ruled nation of two million in the European Union, which it joined in 2004.

^ I don't understand why countries would still want to join the Eurozone (especially considering that some countries in the Zone may be leaving it soon.) I didn't think Estonia switching to the Euro in 2011 was a good idea and don't think Latvia should join it yet (although it won't until 2014 and things could change by then.) I understand that Estonia and Latvia were occupied and forced into the Soviet Union from 1940-1941 and then again from 1944-1991 and they are trying to do everything they can (joining the EU and the Schengen) to separate themselves from that dark past and to create alliances with Western Europe to help make sure the Russians don't come back as occupiers, but you don't have to join the Eurozone to ensure that doesn't happen again. ^

Kosovo Fully Independent

From Deutsche Welle:
"Is Kosovo ready for full independence?"

Four and a half years after declaring independence, Kosovo is now to enjoy full sovereignty. But organized crime, corruption, poverty, and tense diplomatic relations are just some of the problems the state faces. In July, the International Steering Group (ISG) - whose task it is to supervise Kosovo's independence, and which includes representatives from most EU states as well as the US and Turkey - agreed to end its monitoring of the process. The concept of "supervised independence" which lay behind the ISG's work was developed by the former UN Kosovo mediator Martti Ahtisaari and gave the ISG the right to block laws or stop ministerial appointments. On Friday (07.09.2012), the parliament in Pristina passed all the constitutional changes necessary to allow Kosovo full independence. A large majority of the members of the minority parties in parliament also voted for the changes. The government hailed what it called "a historic day" and "the beginning of a new era."
Kosovo is now a "modern, multi-ethnic democracy" with institutions that are ready to take on full responsibility, according to the ISG's explanation of its decision to grant full autonomy.

^ This is a step in the right direction. It is now fully on Kosovo (its government and people) to rule themselves. All the mistakes and successes will be their's and no one else's. I hope that they can correct their internal problems so they can then focus on their international problems  - ie many countries including Serbia still don't recognize their independence. ^