Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fighting For Restitution

From Yahoo:
"Jewish groups struggle for Holocaust restitution"

More than 67 years after the Holocaust, Jirina Novakova refuses to give up her battle to regain property confiscated from her family. Her hopes got a boost two years ago when 43 countries vowed at a Prague conference to back global guidelines for the restitution of property confiscated from Jews during World War II to their rightful owners or heirs. The nations pledged to try harder to return real estate stolen by the Nazis, open archives that might help those dispossessed and to process claims for restitution faster. She thought that show of international determination would pressure her country, the Czech Republic, and help her finally win a court battle to get back a button factory seized from her family by the Nazis. But the 62-year-old is still waiting. This week, Novakova was among 200 people from 41 countries attending another international conference in Prague to review the progress made and put renewed pressure on European governments to restitute such property or provide fair compensation. Shortly after the 2010 conference, the Czech Constitutional Court overturned a 2009 Supreme Court ruling and earlier lower court rulings in favor of Novakova and other relatives seeking the return of the Koh-i-noor button factory in Prague. Originally owned by her grandfather, Zikmund Waldes, it was seized by the Nazis in 1939 during their occupation of what then-Czechoslovakia. The factory was nationalized by the communists after the war in 1945. After the fall of communism, the state sold the factory to a private owner in 1994. No compensation was ever paid to the family. The 2010 agreement "didn't help at all," Novakova said. "It's a little bit depressing."
But she refuses to give up. Now she is challenging the Constitutional Court's ruling and vowed to go next to international courts if she loses her appeal. "I still have hope," she said. The two-day conference in Prague ended Wednesday with new calls for restitution. "While progress has taken place since the fall of Communism and the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union, there remains an urgent need to help the tens of thousands of elderly Holocaust victims and their heirs whose property claims remain unsatisfied," Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, said in a statement. Some at the conference, however, say they have seen some progress. "It's too easy to be pessimistic," said Stuart Eizenstat, a special adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State on Holocaust issues. "These conferences are not simply an exercising in speaking. They are peer reviews, they encourage action. Their declarations, even though not legally binding, have made profound differences in the ways in which countries have tackled this problem." Eizenstat highlighted Germany and Austria as models for others for their property restitution and compensation laws. But he also noted that post-communists countries, including Czech Republic, Poland Lithuania, Hungary, Romania have been doing well at returning communal Jewish property such as synagogues and cemeteries. But he said many of these countries have not done as well compensating for private property like homes and factories. Poland, in particular, is often criticized for failing to pass legislation that would compensate Jews for their losses in the Holocaust. Once home to Europe's largest Jewish community, Poland had for many years vowed to tackle the problem, but in 2011, Prime Minister Donald Tusk's government suspended work on a compensation law, saying a rising state deficit left it unable to afford such payments.

^ I can not understand why 60 + years since the end of World War 2 and 20 + years since the end of Communism in Eastern Europe more is not being done to compensate the victims and their heirs on property stolen from them (by both the Nazis and the Communists.) I think it may have more to do with the fact that former Nazis and former Communists were/are allowed to live and work openly in most of Eastern Europe and that has been going on for decades and so to give the victims back their property would mean the governments and courts would have to admit they were wrong. That the former Nazis and former Communists should have been punished rather than rewarding them with their freedom. I also think that many in Europe are still pretty glad of what the Nazis wanted to accomplish and don't want to see all of it go to waste (ie go back to the victims.) What the governments of Europe need is a neutral body to come in (like the UN, etc) to come and oversea the restitution, but that will never happen.  ^

No Longer Venice's Sister

From RT:
"Friends no more: 'Homosexual propaganda' law leads Venice to break ties with St. Petersburg"

The shadow of tainted reputation has fallen on the city of St. Petersburg as Venice joins Milan and suspends its sister city status. The Italian cities object to the Russian city’s adoption of a controversial “homosexual propaganda” law.  Italian authorities believe the law breaches the rights of the LGBT community. The Italians also say that same-sex marriages must enjoy equal rights with the heterosexual ones. Russia may be moving in the right direction they say; however St. Petersburg has chosen “its own way.”  The decision of the Venice Commune to part with St. Petersburg is now being processed at the Mayor’s office. Milan has already approved the suspension of sister city status, Venezia Today reports.   The authorities in Turin are also preparing an application to the city’s Mayor to officially suspend cooperation with St. Petersburg. The local LGBT community suggested the initiative in Turin.  St. Petersburg’s legislative assembly adopted the law prohibiting “public action aimed at propagandizing sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism, and transgenderism among minors" in February this year. St. Petersburg’s Governor Georgy Poltavchenko signed the law causing a massive outcry both in Russia and internationally.

^ Good job Milan and Venice. It are international actions like these that will hopefully show the officials in Saint Petersburg and the rest of Russia that this anti-gay law is wrong and allows people to openly discriminate against a group of people. I would like to see more programs, exchanges, etc evaluated regarding this new law. If Russia wants to continue to isolate itself and discriminate against others than the rest of the world should voice their opposition and what Milan and Venice did is a great start. ^

CDN: Visa-Free Mexicans

From the Globe and Mail:
"Visa-free travel for Mexican visitors is in the works"

Canada is working to reverse a controversial decision to impose visa requirements on Mexican visitors. Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the pledge to his new Mexican counterpart, Enrique Pena Nieto, who visited Ottawa Wednesday just days before he is officially confirmed as president.
The 2009 move by Canada – an effort to curb bogus refugee claims – irritated the Mexican government. The president-elect raised the issue during one-on-one meetings with Mr. Harper on Parliament Hill and got a positive response from the Prime Minister.  “We would ultimately like to see visa-free travel with Mexico,” Mr. Harper said. “But we… don’t want a re-occurrence of the problems we had in the past.” The Prime Minister said the visa requirement was one of Canada’s only legal options at the time for responding to bogus claims, but under new federal legislation and policies, alternatives can be found. When Ottawa imposed the requirement for temporary visas for Mexican visitors, Citizenship and Immigration released statistics showing that the number of refugee claims from Mexico had increased from 3,400 in 2005 to 9,400 in 2008. It further noted that independent assessments of claims by the Immigration and Refugee Board produced an overall acceptance rate of 11 per cent for Mexican refugee claims. Earlier this year, federal immigration reform legislation aimed at reducing the decision time for refugee claims received royal assent. The legislation allows Ottawa to list designated countries as places that do not normally produce legitimate refugees. Claimants from those countries will not have access to a new “Refugee Appeal Division” of the Immigration and Refugee Board. The measures are expected to take effect later this year.

^ Hopefully Canada will fix all the loopholes before they reinstate visa-free access to Mexicans. This could also have consequences on the US-Canadian border as it was determined that many Mexicans would travel (visa-free) to Canada and then enter the US and stay (illegally.) I would also hope the Canadians include the Americans so that no new barriers would need to be made. ^

PR Banned

From the BBC:
"Court in Russia bans video clips of Pussy Riot online"

A Moscow court has ruled that websites must remove video clips of the Pussy Riot female punk band, two of whose members are in jail. The "punk prayer" has been viewed nearly 2.4m times on YouTube. In its ruling, the court called the clips "extremist". Websites that fail to remove the clips may be blocked. There were widespread international protests over the Pussy Riot trial. A representative of Google's Russian office said YouTube would not take any decision regarding the clips until it had received official documents, Russia's Interfax news agency reports.
Appeal doubts

^ Just when you think Russia can't move further into the Dark Ages things like this happen that help it move further to a repressive regime. You would think that Russians would be wise to al this as they went through 70 + years of the USSR and its censorship and dictatorship and yet the majority of Russians do very little when things like this happen that help bring the dark past closer to present-day. ^

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Best/Worst States

From Yahoo:
"The Best- and Worst-Run States in America"

How well run are America’s 50 states? The answer depends a lot on where you live.

Best-Run States:

1. North Dakota

Debt per capita: $3,282 (22nd lowest)
> Budget deficit: None
> Unemployment: 3.5% (the lowest)
> Median household income: $51,704 (20th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 12.2% (13th lowest)

For the first time, North Dakota ranks as the best run state in the country. In recent years, North Dakota’s oil boom has transformed its economy. Last year, crude oil production rose 35%. As of August, 2012, it was the second-largest oil producer in the country. This was due to the use of hydraulic fracturing in the state’s Bakken shale formation. The oil and gas boom brought jobs to North Dakota, which had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate in 2011 at 3.5%, and economic growth. Between 2010 and 2011, North Dakota’s GDP jumped 7.6%, by far the largest increase in the nation. This growth has also increased home values, which rose a nation-leading 29% between 2006 and 2011. North Dakota and Montana are the only two states that have not reported a budget shortfall since fiscal 2009.

2. Wyoming

Debt per capita: $2,694 (18th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 10.3% (32nd largest)
> Unemployment: 6.0% (7th lowest)
> Median household income: $56,322 (13th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 11.3% (6th lowest)

Wyoming is not the best-run state in the nation this year. The drop is largely due to the state’s contracting economy. In 2011, GDP shrunk by 1.2%, more than any other state. As a whole, however, the state is a model of good management and a prospering population. The state is particularly efficient at managing its debt, owing the equivalent of just 20.4% of annual revenue in fiscal 2010. Wyoming also has a tax structure that, according to the Tax Foundation, is the nation’s most-favorable for businesses — it does not have any corporate income taxes. The state has experienced an energy boom in recent years. The mining industry, which includes oil and gas extracting, accounted for 29.4% of the state’s GDP in 2011 alone, more than in any other state. As of last year, Wyoming’s poverty, home foreclosure, and unemployment rates were all among the lowest in the nation.

3. Nebraska
Debt per capita: $1,279 (2nd lowest)
> Budget deficit: 9.7% (34th largest)
> Unemployment: 4.4% (2nd lowest)
> Median household income: $50,296 (22nd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.1% (tied-15th lowest)

Last year, Nebraska had the second-lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 4.4%. In Lincoln, the state capital, the unemployment rate was 4%, lower than all metropolitan areas in the country, except Bismarck and Fargo in North Dakota. Although far from the nation’s wealthiest state — median income was slightly lower than the U.S. median of $50,502 — Nebraska’s economy is strong relative to the rest of the U.S. The state is one of the leading agricultural producers, with the sector accounting for 8.3% of the state’s GDP last year. The state also had the second-lowest debt per capita in the country in fiscal 2010, at $1,279, compared to an average of $3,614 for states nationwide.

4. Utah

Debt per capita: $2,356 (15th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 14.7% (25th largest)
> Unemployment: 6.7% (tied-11th lowest)
> Median household income: $55,869 (14th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.5% (tied-17th lowest)

In fiscal 2011, Utah had a budget deficit of $700 million, equal to 14.7% of the state’s GDP. This debt-to-GDP ratio is worse than half the states in the U.S. Despite these problems, Utah has committed to reducing expenses in place of raising taxes or increasing debt. The state has also limited its borrowing. Its total debt was just under $6.5 billion in fiscal 2010, or $2,356 per capita — less than most states — and 40.4% of 2010 tax revenue. Both Moody’s and S&P gave Utah their highest credit ratings because of the state’s strong fiscal management. Moody’s commented that Utah has a “tradition of conservative fiscal management; rebuilding of budgetary reserves after their use in the recession; [and] a closely managed debt portfolio.”

5. Iowa

Debt per capita: $1,690 (7th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 20.3% (18th largest)
> Unemployment: 5.9% (6th lowest)
> Median household income: $49,427 (24th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 12.8% (14th lowest)

Like many of the other well-run states, Iowa is one of the nation’s top agricultural centers — the industry accounted for 6.6% of the state’s GDP in 2011. The farm economy has contributed significantly to growth, with farm earnings rising rapidly and land values skyrocketing. State GDP rose by 1.9% between 2010 and 2011 — the 12th-highest increase in the country. Iowa’s unemployment rate fell from 6.3% in 2010 to just 5.9% in 2011, the nation’s sixth-lowest rate. The state has carried a low debt burden in recent years, averaging just $1,690 per capita in fiscal 2010, among the nation’s lowest. The state currently has the best possible credit ratings both from Moody’s and S&P.

Worst-Run States:

50. California
 Debt per capita: $4,008 (18th highest)
> Budget deficit: 20.7% (17th largest)
> Unemployment: 11.7% (2nd highest)
> Median household income: $57,287 (10th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 16.6% (18th highest)

California is 24/7 Wall St.’s “Worst Run State” for the second year in a row. Due to high levels of debt, the state’s S&P credit rating is the worst of all states, while its Moody’s credit rating is the second-worst. Much of California’s fiscal woes involve the economic downturn. Home prices plunged by 33.6% between 2006 and 2011, worse than all states except for three. The state’s foreclosure rate and unemployment rate were the third- and second-highest in the country, respectively. But efforts to get finances on track are moving forward. State voters passed a ballot initiative to raise sales taxes as well as income taxes for people who make at least $250,000 a year. While median income is the 10th-highest in the country, the state also has one of the highest tax burdens on income. According to the Tax Foundation, the state also has the third-worst business tax climate in the country.

49. Rhode Island

Debt per capita: $9,018 (3rd highest)
> Budget deficit: 13.4% (28th largest)
> Unemployment: 11.3% (3rd highest)
> Median household income: $53,636 (17th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 14.7% (24th lowest)

Rhode Island’s finances were a mess in fiscal 2010. The state had $9.5 billion in unpaid debts, which came to 107.2% of that year’s revenues.At more than $9,000 per person, it’s one of the largest debt burdens in the country. The state also funded less than half of its pension obligations, worse than all states except for Illinois. In 2010, in a spectacular example of fiscal mismanagement, the state guaranteed a $75 million loan to a video game company, which has since defaulted. With one of the nation’s slowest growth rates and the third-highest unemployment rate in the U.S., at 11.3%, Rhode Island’s economy performed poorly overall.

48. Illinois

 Debt per capita: $4,790 (11th highest)
> Budget deficit: 40.2% (2nd largest)
> Unemployment: 9.8% (tied-10th highest)
> Median household income: $53,234 (18th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 15.0% (25th highest)

Although many states have budget issues, Illinois’ faces among the biggest problems. In 2010, the state’s budget shortfall was more than 40% of its general fund, the second-highest of any state. Both S&P and Moody’s gave Illinois credit ratings that were the second-worst of all states. In addition, the state only funded 45% of its pension liability in 2010, the lowest percentage of any state. Governor Patrick Quinn has made the now-$85 billion pension gap a top priority for the new legislative session beginning in January.

47. Arizona

Debt per capita: $2,188 (12th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 39.0% (3rd largest)
> Unemployment: 9.5% (tied-13th highest)
> Median household income: $46,709 (21st lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 19.0% (tied-8th highest)

Between 2006 and 2011, the value of homes in Arizona tumbled by 35%, more than every state except for Nevada. The state also had the nation’s second-highest foreclosure rate in 2011, with one in every 24 homes in foreclosure. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Arizona had some of the nation’s largest budget shortfalls. In fiscal 2010, the state had a shortfall of $5.1 billion, equal to 65% of its general fund. In fiscal 2011, Arizona’s budget deficit was 39.0% of its general fund, the third-highest in the nation. In the recent state elections, residents voted on several measures intended to shore up the state’s finances. Voters rejected the continuation of a sales tax hike, while approving the restructuring of the state’s property tax assessment system.

46. New Jersey

 Debt per capita: $6,944 (5th highest)
> Budget deficit: 38.2% (4th largest)
> Unemployment: 9.3% (14th highest)
> Median household income: $67,458 (3rd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 10.4% (3rd lowest)

Between 2010 and 2011, New Jersey’s GDP contracted by 0.5%, more than all but three other states. The state’s median household income and poverty rate were both third best in the nation. On the other hand, the state’s tax burden on its residents was second highest in the U.S. in 2010. Residents paid 12.4% of their income in state and local taxes, higher than any other state except New York. The state has many budget problems, as well. New Jersey’s debt as a percentage of revenue was 91.6%, the fifth-highest of all states.

^ The best run states didn't really surprise me as they are pretty small states in terms of population and seem to follow the same Mid-West principles. It didn't surprise me at all that IL, NJ and CA were the worst run states. RI did surprise me for being on that list - I would have thought MA would have been worse off than RI. Of course knowing the best and worst won't change much in those states or around the country. ^

Combat Women

From the BBC:
"US servicewomen challenge combat role ban"

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a challenge on behalf of four US servicewomen against a ban on women being deployed in most combat roles. The lawsuit filed in a federal court in San Francisco argues that the policy is unconstitutional. Women can serve in front line positions in the US military, but they are barred from ground combat units. A Pentagon spokesman said 14,500 combat positions had been opened to women under the current defence secretary.  He added that Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had "directed the services to explore the possibility of opening additional roles for women in the military". But ACLU lawyer Ariela Migdal said the changes so far were "not enough". The lawsuit argues that continuing restrictions violate servicewomen's constitutional rights to equality. Women account for about 14% of the 1.4 million active US military personnel. The lawsuit launched on Tuesday says they are barred from 238,000 positions, but also alleges that they are already serving unofficially in combat units.

^ I think that it is time to allow women to serve in combat roles in the US Military. I also think that at the same time women should be required to register for the Selective Service just as men have had to do for 30 years - then both policies would be gender equal. Women fight and die protecting our country and have through every war the US has been involved in even though they are "forbidden" from serving in combat roles or, in some cases, in combat zones. The enemy doesn't care if a women is in a combat zone or not as long as they can attack and so women should be allowed to serve in all roles of the US Military as they have proven themselves more than capable throughout the wars/years. ^

Tale Of Two Russians

From the BBC:
"A tale of two Russians"

More than 2.5 million people have left Russia during the past decade, sparking fears of a new brain-drain.  A third of Russia's young professionals are thinking of leaving the country, according to the Russian market research company ROMIR.  Many of them are making plans to go to countries whose economy is performing less well than Russia's. So why do they want to leave? Grigory Rudko is one of those who was dreaming of leaving and now he has taken the plunge.  A graduate of Russia's prestigious Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography, where Sergey Eisenstein once taught, Grigory has moved to San Francisco to launch his own business, an online photo archive called Time Machine. Grigory says it is easier and more profitable to start a business in the US, where he doesn't have to deal with as much bureaucracy and the political issues that irritated him in Russia.  "I wish I could distance myself from what's going on in the country but it proved to be impossible for me," he says. "I was very stressed in Russia. When you have to keep these negative feelings permanently, it's self-destructive, it leads you nowhere, gives you nothing." In Russia Grigory worked as a cameraman for several TV stations and has several documentaries under his belt.  "I travelled to different parts of Russia, filmed in North Caucasus, but most of what I've witnessed and filmed couldn't be broadcast on state TV channels, I had to offer it to the foreign media." "At one point I was just tired of seeing one picture in real life and totally different images on national TV channels". While young urban Russians have itchy feet, most of the older generation and those who live in rural Russia don't even have a foreign passport.  In its research, the Levada Centre, a Russian independent, non-governmental polling organisation, found that 78% of respondents had never travelled outside the country. "Russia might lose the most educated, advanced and critically thinking strata of a society", warns Natalya Zorkaya, from the Levada Centre.

^ This is sad for any country, but when it happens at an alarming rate like it is in Russia it should make the Government stop and think of why people are leaving and come up with ways to prevent them from leaving - without putting a Berlin Wall-style barrier up. ^

Whistle Blower Bill

From Yahoo:
"President signs whistle-blower bill for US workers"

President Barack Obama signed legislation Tuesday that affords greater protection to federal employees who expose fraud, waste and abuse in government operations. Capping a 13-year effort by supporters of whistle-blower rights, the new law closes loopholes created by court rulings, which removed protections for federal whistle-blowers. One loophole specified that whistle-blowers were only protected when they were the first to report misconduct. Obama also signed legislation that protects U.S. airlines from having to pay into a European Union program to cut down on pollutants. Earlier this month, the EU postponed its enforcement of the payment for non-EU airlines amid protests from numerous countries and threats of a possible trade war. The whistle-blower law makes it easier to punish supervisors who try to retaliate against the government workers. The federal official who investigates retaliation, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, said her office "stands ready to implement these important reforms, which will better ensure that no employee suffers retaliation for speaking out against government waste or misconduct." The new legislation, however, would go beyond restoring protections, to expand whistle-blower rights and clarify certain protections. For example, whistle-blowers could challenge the consequences of government policy decisions. Specific protections would be given to certain employees, including government scientists who challenge censorship. Workers at the Transportation Security Administration, who provide airport security, would be covered under the law for the first time. The law also would clarify that whistleblowers have the right to communicate with Congress. To stop illegal retaliation, the law would make it easier to discipline those responsible, by modifying the burden of proof required when taking action against those trying to punish whistle-blowers. Also, the Office of Special Counsel, which was established to protect federal employees, would no longer be liable for attorney fees of government managers if the office does not prevail in a disciplinary action. The new law would suspend the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals' sole jurisdiction to review decisions in whistle-blower cases. He also signed into law legislation that sets a cost-of-living adjustment for veterans who receive disability compensation. The increase is estimated to amount to about 1.9 percent.

^ Hopefully this new whistle blower bill will protect those that work for the government and solely want to help make things better for everyone. ^

Best Airlines

From Yahoo:
"World's best airlines"

The factors our readers did vote on, across 76 global airlines: cabin comfort, in-flight service, customer service, value, and food. No one was surprised to see Singapore Airlines topping the list; they've been the No. 1 airline for the past 17 years. And they must be doing something right—they didn't even have Richard Simmons entertaining their passengers.

No. 1 Singapore Airlines

For the 17th year in a row—ever since T+L inaugurated the World’s Best Awards—Singapore Airlines has been readers’ overall favorite. This year, the airline came out on top in every category: cabin comfort, food, in-flight service, customer service, and value. The 32-inch seat pitch in economy class helps, as do the flight attendants, famous for their above-and-beyond service and sarong and kebaya uniforms. Bedtime turndown service is even part of the flying experience for those with pockets deep enough to book the A380 first-class suites that feature sliding doors, 23-inch TVs, and stand-alone beds hand-stitched by master Italian craftsmen Poltrona Frau.

No. 2 Air New Zealand

The Kiwi carrier has been steadily climbing up the ranks of the world’s best airlines. Two years ago, Air New Zealand ranked seventh, and last year, it was fourth. Cabin comfort, food, and especially improved in-flight service vaulted it into the No. 2 position this year. T+L readers felt that the airline’s value had improved during the past year, and its innovative OneUp program, which allows you to bid for an upgrade seven days before you fly internationally, beats paying through the nose for business or first. Another popular innovation: cuddle class, an economy row of three seats that can convert to a bed.

No. 3 Emirates

Emirates has slipped slightly from No. 2, a spot it held for the past two years. While the airline maintained steady scores for cabin comfort, in-flight service, and food, readers demoted both the airline’s customer service and value scores this year. Still, there’s nothing wrong about coming in third. And forward-thinking innovations like the airline’s signature Shower Spa in first class should keep the airline up to speed with the very best.

No. 4 Korean Air

Korean Air vaulted up the list from last year’s ninth place, thanks to major improvements in readers’ perceptions of in-flight service and food, as well as cabin comfort and value. Tastier Western, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dishes have certainly helped. But, taking a page out of Singapore Airlines’ book, it’s the improved level of service that has brought this airline into the rarefied ranking of our top five carriers.

No. 5 Cathay Pacific Airways

Cathay Pacific went up the list from seventh place last year. The airline worked hard and offered improvements in every area, according to our readers, but especially in the areas of value and food. Leave it to Hong Kong–based Cathay to be among the first to have rice cookers on board. Each seat is outfitted with power outlets and iPod and USB ports—not to mention a 32-inch seat pitch in economy class—and these special touches keep the airline highly ranked for cabin comfort.

No. 6 Asiana Airlines

Asiana is the comeback kid this year. The carrier fell to No. 13 in our 2011 rankings, but in 2010, it was No. 6. What’s the story? According to T+L readers, Asiana has upgraded its cabin comfort, in-flight service, customer service, and value. It fell a little short in its food ranking, but it was so much better in the other critical areas that it’s firmly back in our top 10. Now that Asiana, like its formidable Asian peers, offers suites, it’s clearly a contender.

No. 7 Virgin America

Virgin America remains the highest-ranking U.S. airline in our survey, despite slipping two slots in the overall rankings from last year. (It holds up even better among the survey’s domestic rankings with a No. 1 rank in every category.) The Red touch-screen system that allows you to order snacks and drinks, shop, and give back to fight cancer or to offset your carbon footprint is a prime example of how Virgin America is truly in step with the expectations of 21st-century travelers.

No. 8 Qatar Airways

Ranked No. 11 in 2011, Qatar has made a move into the top 10, although not yet back to the No. 3 ranking it earned from readers in 2010 or 2009’s No. 2 spot. Readers did give kudos to improvements in the airline’s in-flight service and to welcome changes in cabin comfort, namely the 32-inch seat pitch. Hiring celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa to oversee the in-flight menu is another crowd-pleaser.

No. 9 Virgin Atlantic Airways

Virgin Atlantic ranked eighth last year and could use a little maintenance in the eyes of T+L readers. The airline fell a bit short in every category this year, but most especially when it came to food, in-flight service, and value. Even cabin comfort was found to be less comforting this year compared to last. That said, the airline still made it into the survey’s top 10—and continues to make headlines for its cheeky spirit. Earlier this year, for instance, Upper Class passengers had the distinct pleasure of drinks served with ice cubes crafted to resemble Sir Richard Branson’s head.

No. 10 Thai International Airways

Ensconced at No. 10, as it was in 2011, Thai Airways pretty much maintained the status quo, according to our survey, although readers did feel that the airline offered more value than it had in the past. Thai has certainly been keeping up with other quality carriers, installing niceties like Audio Visual on Demand (AVOD). But since most of its flights are within Asia or to Europe (with North American service only to Los Angeles), it lacks the visibility of the top-dog Asian airlines. Regardless, our readers think it deserves top 10 status.

^ I have only flown two of these airlines: Emirates and Virgina Atlantic. I flew Emirates from Kuwait to Dubai and then Dubai to Cyprus. I did not care for Emirates at all. There were issues at check-in, boarding, the flight crew were rude, my transfer wasn't fun and then when I finally landed in Cyprus they had lost one of my bags and no one seemed to care (it was as though it always happened.) I have flown countless times and have only had my bags lost a handful of time - so I don't consider it routine. I will think twice before I fly them ever again. I have flown Virgin Atlantic many times (from both DC and Boston to London) and they are pretty good. I will fly them again. ^

Monday, November 26, 2012

12 Day Costs

From the Albany Times Union:
"All items in '12 Days of Christmas' now top $107K"

Add seven swans, six geese and five golden rings to the list of Christmas gifts that cost more than they did a year ago. And if you get all 364 items repeated throughout "The Twelve Days of Christmas" carol, you'll pay 6.1 percent more this year, according to the so-called Christmas Price Index that PNC Wealth Management updates annually. That comes to $107,300. Thrifty shoppers may find some reasons for cheer. Six items mentioned in the song haven't gone up in price: maids-a-milking, ladies dancing, lords-a-leaping, calling birds, turtle doves and the partridge. The eight maids-a-milking still cost just $58 because the minimum wage hasn't risen. Twelve drummers drumming ($2,775.50) and eleven pipers piping ($2,562) might also be considered relative bargains compared to seven swans, which will set you back $7,000. Nine ladies dancing will cost you $6,294.03. The price of a pear tree is $189.99, an 11.8 percent jump from last year's $169.99. Five gold rings jumped 16.3 percent this year, to $750, and three French hens are now $165, instead of $150. The $15 partridge is the cheapest item, and swans the most expensive, at $1,000 each.

^ This is interesting to read every year. ^

Canadian Pride

From the Globe and Mail:
"Universal Health Care Much Loved Among Canadians"

Canadians, it seems, love their universal health care. The monarchy? Not so much. A new national poll commissioned by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies examined the pride Canadians place in a list of more than a dozen symbols, achievements and attributes. The online survey of 2,207 respondents by Leger Marketing found universal health care was almost universally loved, with 94 per cent calling it an important source of collective pride – including 74 per cent who called it “very important.”  At the other end of the spectrum, just 39 per cent of respondents felt the monarchy was a source of personal or collective pride, while 59 per cent were royally unimpressed. In fact, 32 per cent of respondents found the monarchy “not at all important” – the most popular singular response. The findings provide an interesting snapshot of the country after seven years under a Stephen Harper government that’s made a priority of promoting its own blend of nation-building symbols. But Canada’s economic performance finished among the top four pride-instilling achievements. Rounding out the top four – with 60 per cent calling it “very important” and nine out of 10 respondents deeming it important – was the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“One of the ones that does really well – the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – is one the government was more hesitant about,” said Mr. Jedwab. The Conservatives consciously downplayed this year’s 30th anniversary of the Charter, choosing to mark the occasion with a simple press release.
By contrast, the government has budgeted more than $28-million to mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, a multi-year program that includes everything from TV advertising to upgrading historic sites and striking commemorative coins. Alas, the historic series of battles between the British and the Americans came in near the bottom of the Leger online survey, albeit still far ahead of the monarchy in perceived importance. Partisans keeping score might take solace that old Liberal standards, the policy of official bilingualism and the 1982 patriation of the Constitution, tied with the War of 1812 as a source of pride. All three were deemed somewhat or very important by 61 per cent of respondents. Thirty-six per cent of respondents felt official bilingualism was of little or no importance to their pride in Canada, while 30 per cent were unimpressed with the War of 1812 and 25 per cent shrugged off Canada getting its own constitution. Multiculturalism didn’t fare a whole lot better. The Canadian flag and the passport were sources of pride for 84 per cent of respondents, followed by the national anthem at 78 per cent. The Armed Forces, another key Conservative theme, were deemed a source of collective pride by 76 per cent, just behind “our federal system of governance.” Hockey, incidentally, didn’t fare well at all. Only 48 per cent of respondents said the game imparted an important sense of national pride. The 1972 Summit Series, meanwhile, was even lower at 40 per cent.

^ I have heard many Canadians complain about the broken Universal Health Care System and how you have to wait to see doctors and specialists. Most said it needed to be fixed from the ground-up. As for the Canadians Monarchy that didn't surprise me at all as most Canadians have no idea what the Queen (who is also the Queen of the UK and numerous other countries) or the Canadian Royal Family (which isn't the same as the British Royal Family) actually do in and for Canada. I have no idea why the Canadian Government put so much importance on the anniversary of the War of 1812 - I went to several provinces in Canada this past July and heard it mentioned a lot. I can understand why the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is popular as it cover everyone in Canada - citizens and tourists - while the US Bill of Rights and Constitution don't always cover foreigners. Bilingualism isn't that important to Canadians because most people aren't bilingual. The only official bilingual province is New Brunswick (Quebec is unilingual - French and most of the other provinces are unilingual  - English.) Students may be forced to learn either French or English in school but unless you want to work for the Government then you won't use it after your graduate. I don't understand why the Canadian Passport would be linked with the Maple Leaf Flag in giving pride - I have one and it's nothing special. In fact Passport Canada keeps pushing back the introduction of the e-passport when countries like Russia already have them. I would think the 1982 Constitution patriation would be more popular as it made Canada fully independent from the British in London. I consider Canada to only have achieved full sovereignty 30 years ago since that is when they no longer needed British permission or approval (even if it was a rubber stamp.) The same with Germany - it has only had full sovereignty over its affairs since March 1991 with the signing of the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany.) All in all Canadians have a lot to be proud of. It was interesting to read what people around the country thought was important to being Canadian. ^

Police Sorry

From Jerusalem Post:
"Norway's police apologize for deporting Jews"

Norwegian police apologized for the first time on Monday for their complicity in the deportation and murder of over 700 Jews during the Nazi occupation in World War Two, just months after the prime minister made a formal apology. "Norwegian police officers participated in the arrest and deportation of Jews," police chief Odd Reidar Humlegaard said on the 70th anniversary of Norway deporting the first group of Jews to Auschwitz. "It is fitting that I express my regret for the role police played in the arrest and deportation of these completely innocent victims," he said. Vidkun Quisling, Norway's leader during the Nazi occupation whose name has become a synonym for traitor, ordered the registration of Jews in 1942 and the state apparatus played a complicit role in their eventual deportation. Norway acknowledged the state's role in 1998 and paid some $60 million to Norwegian Jews and Jewish organizations in compensation for property seized.  But the move fell short of a full apology, causing further national debate and the establishment of a Holocaust research center. Current prime minister Jens Stoltenberg only made a formal apology earlier this year. Norway's Jewish population rose to around 2,100 by 1942 from 1,700 before the war as refugees from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia fled the continent. Authorities eventually deported 772, of whom only 34 survived. Others either stayed in hiding or fled to neighboring Sweden, which protected its Jewish population and also accepted around 8,000 Danish Jews.

^ It always seemed off to me that the Danish saved almost all of their Jews by getting them to Sweden and I couldn't understand why the Norwegians didn't also do the same. I knew Quisling was a Norwegian Nazi and worked for the Germans, but didn't realize that the ordinary Norwegians (the police, etc) also helped with the deportations. I guess I really shouldn't be too surprised as the majority of police forces in the German-occupied countries worked with the Germans. It is good that Norway and the Norwegian officials not only compensate the victims that they helped kill. but also to say they are sorry for what they did. Sometime words speak more than money and this is one of those cases. ^

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Penmanship: The Lost Art

From USA Today:
"Some states buck the trend and preserve penmanship"

The pen may not be as mighty as the keyboard these days, but California and a handful of states are not giving up on handwriting entirely. Bucking a growing trend of eliminating cursive from elementary school curriculums or making it optional, California is among the states keeping longhand as a third-grade staple. The state's posture on penmanship is not likely to undercut its place at the leading edge of technology, but it has teachers and students divided over the value of learning flowing script and looping signatures in an age of touchpads and mobile devices. Some see it as a waste of time, an anachronism in a digitized society where even signatures are electronic, but others see it as necessary so kids can hone fine motor skills, reinforce literacy and develop their own unique stamp of identity. The debate comes as 45 states move toward adopting national curriculum guidelines in 2014 for English and math that don't include cursive handwriting, but require proficiency in computer keyboarding by the time pupils exit elementary school. Several states, including California, Georgia and Massachusetts, have added a cursive requirement to the national standards, while most others, such as Indiana, Illinois and Hawaii have left it as optional for school districts. Some states, like Utah, are still studying the issue. Whether it's required or not, cursive is fast becoming a lost art as schools increasingly replace pen and paper with classroom computers and instruction is increasingly geared to academic subjects that are tested on standardized exams. Even the standardized tests are on track to be administered via computer within three years. Cursive still has many proponents who say it benefits youngsters' brains, coordination and motor skills, as well as connects them to the past, whether to handwritten historical documents like the Constitution or to their parents' and grandparents' letters. "I think it's part of your identity and part of your self-esteem," said Eldra Avery, who teaches language and composition at San Luis Obispo High School. "There's something really special and personal about a cursive letter."

^ I think every child needs to learn penmanship. They may use I-Pads, smart phones, etc but most can't spell or write correctly even on those and teaching penmanship will help them in those areas. When I learned Russian while studying in Yaroslavl I was only taught to read and write printed Cyrillic and not cursive Cyrillic and to this day I still can't read cursive Russian. I learned cursive English in school when I was young and can write it today, but I found I can write much faster in print and only use cursive on checks and when signing my name - but I still believe it is a basic element that everyone needs to learn. ^

US Of Mexico

From Yahoo:
"Mexico's president tries to change country's name"

Mexico's president is making one last attempt to get the "United States" out of Mexico — at least as far as the country's name is concerned. The name "United Mexican States," or "Estados Unidos Mexicanos," was adopted in 1824 after independence from Spain in imitation of Mexico's democratic northern neighbor, but it is rarely used except on official documents, money and other government material. Still, President Felipe Calderon called a news conference Thursday to announce that he wants to make the name simply "Mexico." His country doesn't need to copy anyone, he said. Calderon first proposed the name change as a congressman in 2003 but the bill did not make it to a vote. The new constitutional reform he proposed would have to be approved by both houses of Congress and a majority of Mexico's 31 state legislatures. However, Calderon leaves office on Dec. 1, raising the question of whether his proposal is a largely symbolic gesture. His proposal was widely mocked on Twitter as a ridiculous parting shot from a lame-duck president. The United States looms larger than perhaps any other country in the Mexican cultural imagination: Mexicans follow U.S. sports teams, watch U.S. television shows and buy U.S.-made products. For many, however, there is also resentment of a larger and more powerful northern neighbor that's often seen as ignoring or looking down its nose at Mexico. Calderon has tried to keep Mexico's international image, and its vital tourism industry, from being tarred by the waves of violence set off by his six-year, militarized offensive against drug cartels. At least 47,500 people have died in cartel-related violence during his term in office, although the number is believed to be far higher, since his administration stopped releasing an official count last year. A poll released this week by the Vianovo consulting firm said that half of all Americans view Mexico unfavorably and more than 70 percent believe it's unsafe to travel south of the border. The poll of 1,000 adults had a margin of error of four percentage points.

^ Mexico should focus on stopping the drug mobs from running the country which is keeping tourists and busnessmen (American and others) from going to the country rather than change the country's name. If they ended the drug wars and violence and then changed their name it would have more symbolic meaning as it would be a new name for a new country rather than a band-aid name on a crime-ridden, violent country. I went to Mexico once and didn't care for it and have no desire to go back unless/until the violence ends. ^

USPS Same-Day?

From Yahoo:
"Cash-strapped post office tests same-day delivery"

Emboldened by rapid growth in e-commerce shipping, the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service is moving aggressively this holiday season to start a premium service for the Internet shopper seeking the instant gratification of a store purchase: same-day package delivery. Teaming up with major retailers, the post office will begin the expedited service in San Francisco on Dec. 12 at a price similar to its competitors. If things run smoothly, the program will quickly expand next year to other big cities such as Boston, Chicago and New York. It follows similar efforts by eBay,, and most recently Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which charges a $10 flat rate for same-day delivery. The delivery program, called Metro Post, seeks to build on the post office's double-digit growth in package volume to help offset steady declines in first-class and standard mail. Operating as a limited experiment for the next year, it is projected to generate between $10 million and $50 million in new revenue from deliveries in San Francisco alone, according to postal regulatory filings, or up to $500 million, if expanded to 10 cities. The filings do not reveal the mail agency's anticipated expenses to implement same-day service, which can only work profitably if retailers have enough merchandise in stores and warehouses to be quickly delivered to nearby residences in a dense urban area. The projected $500 million in potential revenue, even if fully realized, would represent just fraction of the record $15.9 billion annual loss that the Postal Service reported last week. But while startups in the late 1990s such as notably failed after promising instant delivery, the Postal Service's vast network serving every U.S. home could put it in a good position to be viable over the long term. The retail market has been rapidly shifting to Internet shopping, especially among younger adults, and more people are moving from suburb to city, where driving to a store can be less convenient. "Customers do like same-day delivery when it gets very close to a holiday or it otherwise becomes too late to shop," said Jim Corridore, analyst with S&P Capital IQ, which tracks the shipping industry. "But while the Postal Service has the ability to deliver to any address, they are not always known for their speed. To increase their speed might prove to be a much more complex offering than they're thinking about." Under the plan, the Postal Service is working out agreements with at least eight and as many as 10 national retail chains for same-day delivery. The mail agency says nondisclosure agreements don't allow it to reveal the companies. But given the somewhat limited pool of large-scale retailers — they must have a physical presence in 10 or more big U.S. cities to be a postal partner — the list is expected to include department stores, sellers of general merchandise, clothiers, even perhaps a major e-commerce company or two. Consumers will have until 2 or 3 p.m. to place an online order with a participating retailer, clicking the box that says "same-day delivery" and making the payment. Postal workers then pick up the merchandise from nearby retail stores or warehouses for delivery to homes between 4 and 8 p.m. that day. In San Francisco, the post office will closely track work hours and travel, which could quickly add to costs depending on traffic, total package volume or the proximity of merchandise in a delivery area.

^ I don't think the USPS will be able to pull this off. They are barely able to handle delivering mail overnight  (I have had cases where they couldn't even do that and I got a refund and there was no weather-related issues.) It seems like a desperate act from a desperate company. Congress needs to make the USPS a full government agency again and fix it from the top-down. ^

Military Gates

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Pedestrian commuters on base encounter an enemy at the gates"

From the very beginning, Irene Maschke didn’t like them. Then one day, one of them tried to kidnap her. Standing in front of another recently, she looked ready to brawl. She swiped her ID card. A lock disengaged. Then she opened a heavy door and stepped into one of the automated pedestrian gates that have popped up at Army bases in Europe in recent years. It kicked her out immediately “Whoever bought them,” she said, preparing to start the process of entering Kleber Kaserne in Kaiserslautern all over again, “should be fired.” She’s hardly alone in harboring disdain for the Army’s Enhanced Security Pedestrian Gates, which look like displaced elevators and hold many a pedestrian commuter’s chance of arriving at work on time in their hot little circuit boards. For many who use them, the gates’ breakdowns, glitches and inability to handle heavy morning foot traffic can turn a good day bad. But as the number of American soldiers in Europe dwindles, the gates appear to be multiplying, replacing human guards at gates where, according to a response from U.S. Army Europe, “there is not enough pedestrian traffic for it to be financially viable” to pay a guard to do what the machines can do. The first electronic gate was tested in 2006 at Kleber Kaserne. Now, there are at least 22 of the devices on Army installations across Germany and Italy. Each costs anywhere from $270,000 to $490,000 to install and another $18,000 a year to maintain, according to figures provided by USAREUR.
“That’s a lot of money for something that works half of the time,” said Spc. Curtis Thomas, 20, a transportation management coordinator from Atlanta, who uses an unmanned gate at the west end of Kleber about three times a week. Maybe half the time is stretching it; a third of the time, he said, it doesn’t work. From May through August, there were 74 calls for repairs to gates at 22 locations in Germany and Italy, according to an emailed response from USAREUR, which the command credited to an Army Corps of Engineers office in Alabama. Of those calls, 13 were false alarms, 39 were fixed the same day and 12 were fixed the following day. Five other breakdowns took between three and four days to fix, according to the response, while nine took longer. Another breakdown was more serious. “One gate, at Coleman Barracks was down for several days after someone was locked in and a lock had to be broken to let the person out,” according to the Army engineers’ response, which noted the person was “let out quickly” after the gate malfunctioned, “but the repairs took several days.” “As for the repair cost, the records show a technician arrived and cut the lock within an hour after being called,” a spokesman for USAREUR wrote in a follow-up email. “The new lock was acquired and replaced six days later at a cost of $357 for the lock, plus just over two hours labor (the technician replaced the lock and some damaged rivets and repainted the damaged area).” Maschke had a similar encounter with a gate. “One time I was locked up in it,” she said. As usually happens when something goes wrong with the gates — monitored by vehicle-gate guards around the clock — a guard responded when she pushed the button for assistance. That time, though, “the gate guard didn’t know how to open the gate and couldn’t let me out. And I stood there for about 10-15 minutes,” Maschke said. “It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic.”

^ This seems like a big waste. It wastes communters' time getting to/from work and it wastes the government's money in having to constantly fix the broken machines. When I lived in Germany I had to wait at the gate while the MPs checked the cars and sometimes when there wasn't a car they waited and waited for one to come rather than walk over and check my ID. A lot of the time I waited, but when there were no cars I would start walking and only stopped when the MPs came running/screaming at me to stop. I would act surprised and said I thought they said I could continue on knowing full well they didn't and they were only trying to use what little authority they thought they had. I have no sympathy for MPs as I have had to deal with so many stupid ones from Germany to Virginia and I don't think I have ever met a smart one. Regardless, I mentioned the story of waiting at the gate because it still sounds better than being stuck in an automated gate. This system seems broken (if it ever worked) and both the manufacturer and the military seem to make countless excuses for it rather than fix the issues or do away with it completely. ^

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Canadian Black Friday

From Yahoo Canada:
"Canadian 'Black Friday' fights to keep shoppers from border crossing"

Forced to compete with the lure of even more duty-free exemptions this shopping season, more Canadian retailers are expected to jump on the U.S.-style Black Friday bandwagon in an effort to keep price-conscious shoppers from crossing the border. While still not reaching the frenzied heights seen in the U.S., the Canadianized version of Black Friday —the annual U.S. Thanksgiving merchandise sales event — has steadily caught on in Canada over the past few years and is expected to have its biggest year yet. A number of the big retail chains ramped up their promotions weeks ahead of the annual event, boasting an array of four-day special sales to coincide with the U.S. long weekend. Most of the big chains, including Best Buy Canada and Future Shop, The Brick, Sears Canada, the Gap Inc. (which includes its stable of clothing stores the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy) will be incorporating the Black Friday theme to entice shoppers this weekend. In Ontario, Cadillac Fairview announced that nine of its malls will be extending their hours this Black Friday. Toronto's Eaton Centre mall, for example, will be opening at 6 a.m. "We think it's the voice of the consumer saying 'in Canada, we should see amazing Canadian deals,' if not there will be a lot of leakage to U.S. shopping." That cross-border shopping leakage is an obvious concern to Canadian retailers, who face increased cross-border challenges now that new duty-free exemptions came into effect earlier this year. Canadian shoppers who stay overnight in the U.S. are now allowed to bring back up to $200 worth of merchandise duty-free, rather than just the $50 worth before the new rules were put in place. For people who travel between two and seven days, the limit has doubled to $800 from $400, while the limit for visits of more than a week increases to $800 from $750. Meanwhile, according to a survey conducted by Ipsos Reid for Visa Canada, nearly 44 per cent of Canadian online shto shopoppers say they are likely to take advantage of discounts offered on Black Friday and Cyber Monday (by shopping at American online merchants — a 10 per cent increase over last year. Vincent Power, a spokesman for Sears Canada, said cross-border shopping began ramping up back in 2007, when the Canadian dollar reached parity with its U.S. counterpart. Canada has also seen an influx of new American retailers over the last two to three years. Many American companies, facing a saturated retail market at home, headed north where the competition isn't as pronounced, Kruh observed. As well, Canada is considered a great springboard for international expansion by U.S. firms as they can start here and then figure out their business template and other issues like supply chains and packaging. These new American companies also bring with them the same promotional strategies from the U.S., which include Black Friday.

^ I don't know why it has taken Canada so long to realize that Canadian shoppers are going to the US to shop as they have been for decades if not centuries. Here in NH there is no sales tax so we not only get lots of people from neighboring states like Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, but also from Canada. I have noticed lots of Canadian shoppers - usually coming by bus - on Memorial Day, Labor Day and Black Friday. Even though I'm Canadian I live in the US and am also an American and don't think much about it, but if I was a Canadian living in Canada I would be upset that I couldn't get the same kind of bargains and discounts in my own country (even if it was in another province.) Of course whether I am a Canadian in Canada, a Canadian in the US or an American in the US I would try my hardest to not go shopping on the high-paced days I already mentioned - especially not on Black Friday.  ^

Non-CDN Overseas Support

I knew that Canada has had a consular agreement with Australia for years and recently signed a similar agreement with the United Kingdom and I wanted to learn more about it. Apparently, under the Canadian-Australian agreement there are no Canadian officers in the Embassy/High Commission of Australia whereas as under the Canadian-British agreement each side has its own officer in the other country's building. I do not believe that the Australian-Canadian agreement is a good one since the decision to help a Canadian overseas or a person wanting to visit Canada is made by a non-Canadian. That is a loss of sovereignty on the part of Canada.

Canadians needing consular assistance in the following countries/territories need to go to the Embassy/High Commission of Australia:

- American Samoa, Burma, Cambodia, East Timor, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Laos, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Canadians needing consular assistance in the following countries/territories need to go to the Embassy/High Commission of the United Kingdom:

- Bosnia and Herzegovina and Gambia

Canadians needing consular assistance in North Korea need to go to the Embassy of Sweden. (I don't know what is in the Canadian-Swedish agreement.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving and it was a very nice day. For breakfast my mom made pumpkin pancakes and bacon. Then throughout the day I helped my dad work outside and my mom in the kitchen.I also watched part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - which was ok, but not that good. For dinner we had: turkey roulade (pictured above,) stuffing, brussel sprouts, cranberries, sweet potatoes, rolls and gravy. For dessert there was pumpkin cheesecake. Everything came out great. It was a really nice meal. I'm glad I got to spend it with both my parents. Of course, now the holiday season is here so let the fun begin.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Military Thanksgiving

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Thanksgiving Army-style at remote base in Afghanistan"

COMBAT OUTPOST BOWRI TANA, Afghanistan — As she prepares Thanksgiving lunch and dinner here, Spc. Nikki Barthelemey faces a few holiday challenges — cooking the turkey evenly, finishing side dishes on time, avoiding incoming mortar fire. Wait — what? Barthelemey is head cook for an Army infantry company at this outpost in remote east Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, a transit region for militants entering the country, and an unlikely setting for a traditional American Thanksgiving. Yet that’s how Barthelemey is spending the day, cooking a meal that rivals what Company C, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, is missing during deployment. “Just want everybody to be happy,” she said. “You can’t be with your family, but you can be with me.” She’s offering a full menu, from fried and roasted turkey to ham and a 75-pound beef “steamship round” roast. She’ll have traditional sides such as stuffing, green bean casserole and cranberry sauce, and dessert that includes pie, cookies and ice cream. Entering the third month of a nine-month deployment, soldiers with the 3-187 and its parent unit, the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, have spent their days patrolling villages and training local security forces, and their evenings on guard duty or running nighttime operations.
^ Americans need to remember the men and women who continue to risk their lives to protect our country - especially on Thanksgiving. It is great that the soldiers in the warzone also get to celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving - it's the least the military can do to thank the soldiers for their service. ^

Black Friday Tips

From Yahoo:
"5 things stores won't tell you about Black Friday"

1. "Expect pandemonium at the stores."

Stores are anticipating a huge turnout -- read: crowds -- this year. According to a survey conducted by management consulting firm Accenture, 53% of consumers say they plan to shop on Black Friday, up from 44% last year. That would reverse three years of declining consumer interest in the day, based on the company's previous surveys. To lure consumers, retailers have been rolling out new strategies: Some stores are using social media to give shoppers sneak previews of the deals they'll offer on Nov. 23. And to make shopping in the store easier, the retailer just enhanced its smartphone app, enabling customers to find Black Friday deals at specific store locations -- down to the department and floor. To pull in more early birds, some retailers are touting free gift cards with purchases. Consumers who spend $50 or more on certain products at Target between 4 a.m. and noon, for instance, will get a $10 store gift card for future purchases. Wal-Mart is also offering $100 store gift cards to customers who buy select smartphones beginning at 5 a.m. (while supplies last, that is).

2. "We ruined Thanksgiving."
Thanks to retailers, Black Friday comes earlier each year. This year, some stores will roll out their Black Friday deals before the Thanksgiving dinner table is cleared. Sears, Toys "R" Us and Wal-Mart deals will kick off at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night in most locations. Most Target stores will open at 9 p.m., while Macy's and Best Buy will open doors at most locations at midnight. Retail experts say it's all meant to build up consumer demand for the day.

 3. "Black Friday came early."
Lots of retailers started the Black Friday-like come-ons in early November this year. The reason is simple. Consumer spending this holiday season is expected to increase 4.1% over the last holiday season. Still, that's down from the 5.6% growth retailers saw last year, according to the National Retail Federation. With consumers putting a cap on their budgets, retailers are jockeying to be the first stop shoppers make, says Jason Baker, a partner with X Team International, a retail brokerage alliance.

4. "You should have stayed home."
As retailers compete for more sales, they're putting their Black Friday deals online as well, says Baker. Toys "R" Us shoppers will be able to get the same deals online as in its stores, says company spokeswoman Jennifer Albano. Macy's will also offer many of the same in-store deals on its site.
That means consumers can avoid the long lines altogether by staying home and shopping online. And in some cases, they can get those deals early. Retailers including Kohl's and Sears will offer some of their Black Friday deals on their websites days before the big event. Target will also offer early online access to some deals on Thanksgiving Day. Black Friday is no longer reserved just for in-store purchases, says Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. But just because they're on their computer, consumers shouldn't think they'll avoid the hype. Expect to receive text messages via your smartphone touting free shipping, discounts and coupons.

5. "Prepare for violence
Dan Nainan says he remembers his breaking point. He had been waiting outside a Best Buy for three hours -- before the store opened -- to buy a flat-screen TV that was on sale for 50% off. His chances at scoring one were decent, he figured, because he was around the 20th person in line. But as the doors opened, a crowd ran to the doors, cutting the line. Angered, the shoppers behind him started pushing forward. "It was a mob scene," he says. "There was all this pushing and shoving; I thought someone was going to get trampled." Erin Bix, a spokeswoman for Best Buy, says that the safety of its customers and employees is its biggest priority.

^ I have another tip for people on Black Friday - STAY HOME! I would never fight the cold and the crowds to get anything whether it is Black Friday or anyday. I find you can save more by buying online (you can compare prices from around the country and the world and as long as you remember to include shipping in your comparison you can get the same things as in the stores for around the same price. Even though the USPS doesn't come to my house - my mailbox is a mile away and if there's a package I have to drive to the Post Office 23 minutes away - it is still more convenient   than fighting people at Wal-mart or any store like that (which are 45 minutes away from me.) ^


From the BBC:
"Israel-Hamas ceasefire comes into effect in Gaza"

A ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement which governs Gaza has come into effect. Under the deal, Israel has agreed to end all hostilities and targeted killings, while Hamas will stop attacks against Israel and along the border. At least 157 people have died since the flare-up of violence began last week. Both sides continued to fire on each other as the 21:00 (19:00 GMT) ceasefire deadline approached, but no incidents have been reported since. Earlier, a bomb exploded on a bus in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, leaving three people needing surgery. Israel has agreed to "stop all hostilities on the Gaza Strip, land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals", the ceasefire deal says. "All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel, including rocket attacks, and attacks along the border," it stipulates. Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamel Amr announced the ceasefire at a news conference in Cairo with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who joined negotiations on Wednesday. A statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had agreed to a US suggestion "to give a chance to Egypt's proposal for a ceasefire and so give an opportunity to stabilise the situation and calm it before there will be need to apply greater force". For the truce to hold, Mrs Clinton said, "the rocket attacks [from Gaza] must end and a broader calm must return". "Now we have to focus on reaching a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security, dignity and legitimate aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis alike," she added.  US President Barack Obama praised the Israeli leader for accepting the deal and said he would seek additional funding for the Iron Dome missile defence system, which destroyed dozens of rockets from Gaza in mid-air during the past week. He also thanked Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi for his efforts.

^ I am curiously optomestic that this ceasefire will hold or lead to a lasting peace. I think that the two sides only accepted it because the US got involved. Hopefully, now Israelies can get back to their normal lives and not worry about missiles or bombers. I also hope that Gazans will realzie that their terrorist group government, Hamas, is not the best choice for them and will get a new government that like the West Bank will work with Israel to stop all violence on both sides. ^

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lenin-less Russia?

From RT:
"All monuments of Lenin to be removed from Russian cities"

Russian lawmakers believe it is time to remove monuments to the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, from town and city squares across the country.  Memorials to such “a controversial figure” should be re-located in museums or alleys with statues of other historic persons, suggested the author of the initiative, Liberal-Democratic party (LDPR) Deputy Aleksandr Kurdyumov.  The idea of “De-Leninization” was welcomed by the ruling United Russia party, writes Izvestia daily.  According to Kurdyumov, the main argument in favor of the removal of monuments is the high cost of maintenance. He says they would be better looked after and safe from vandalism in museums.  Soviet-legacy statues of Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) can still be seen in central squares of almost all Russian towns. There is hardly a single settlement in the country without a street named after the Bolshevik leader.  The time has come to get rid of Lenin’s “stranglehold” and leave only monuments that are considered true masterpieces of art and only in those places where local population want to see them, the LDPR lawmaker insists.  It often happens that there no other memorials but to Lenin in Russian towns and that is “unfair” to other outstanding personalities – such as Peter the Great, General Aleksandr Suvorov, Tsar Ivan the Terrible and others.  Under the proposal, municipal authorities should hold referendums to find out where people want the Lenin statues to be placed. If they do not want to see the leader of the 1917 Revolution at all, such monuments should be dismantled, sent to museums or sold to collectors, Kurdyumov suggests. The money received from the sales could be used, for instance, to create new parks. United Russia’s lawmaker, Valery Trapeznikov agrees that the idea should first be discussed with the people. In the USSR, monuments were erected at the government’s bidding. If now they are dismantled by order of the authorities, “it can lead to a wave of protests,” he told Izvestia.  Meanwhile, the Communist party (KPRF) is strongly opposed to the idea of removing monuments to their key ideologist. "Lenin is the founding father of the Russian Federation…Same as George Washington in America,” a senior member of the party, Sergey Obukhov stressed. He noted that some laws signed by the Bolshevik leader are still valid in Russia.

^ This shouldn't even be an issue in the second decade of the 21st Century. Lenin was not founder of the Russian Federation, but of the Soviet Union. He is not the Russian George Washington, but the Russian Jefferson Davis. These monuments should be taken down and put in park "graveyards." I saw on "The Amazing Race" and "Rick Steve's Europe" parks that are full of Soviet and other Communist memorials and statues in Eastern Europe. It was pretty cool and weird at the same time. I took the above picture in Yaroslavl. A running joke throughout my time in Russia was that Lenin wasn't pointing to the future of Communism - since Communism has no future - but to the closest McDonald's. I went to Lenin's Mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow (it took me several tries because he was "closed for repair") but when I finally got to go inside it was very dark and creepy. The soldiers guarding him (they looked like the guards from "The Wizard of Oz") kept you walking fast and didn't allow anyone to say anything. Lenin is a symbol of repression and a dictatorship government that would kill millions of its own people and millions more throughout Europe. ^

Monday, November 19, 2012

Keeping Tel Aviv Safe

From the Jerusalem Post:
"The man who keeps Tel Aviv safe from rockets"

Maj. Itamar Abu is keeping the millions of residents of the greater Tel Aviv metropolitan area safe from death and destruction. As commander of the hastily assembled Iron Dome battery wheeled out on Friday to defend Israel’s largest metropolis, Abu is playing a critical role in ensuring that the powerful Iranian-made Fajr-5 rockets fired from Gaza do not cause carnage on the city streets.  “It’s an amazing feeling when we make an interception,” Abu said on Monday. “We set up this battery in only 24 hours. All of the people involved in this – when we see a missile strike, the incoming threat – feel an enormous sense of satisfaction.” Three days ago, Abu was pursuing his university studies, when he was called back by the air force to command the new battery, the fifth of its kind deployed to defend the lives of civilians from Palestinian terrorists’ rockets.  Previously the commander of the Iron Dome battery that was stationed in Beersheba, Abu wasted no time in working with technicians from the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which produces the systems, to get the battery up and running before terrorists could direct the rocket menace at Tel Aviv. “We reservists are operating this,” he said. “We had to install the interceptor missiles and make sure all the new equipment was working,” he added. Hours after the battery went online, the first long-range projectiles hurtled at Tel Aviv, only to collide with an Iron Dome interceptor missile. “We worked all night on Friday to have it ready,” he recalled. The system has since successfully intercepted a number of Iranian-made Fajr-5 missiles and Gaza-manufactured long-range rockets, all of which have a range of approximately 70 kilometers. Two interceptors are fired at every incoming threat, though if one missile carries out the task successfully, the second is sent to an open area, what Abu describes as “the interceptor’s graveyard,” to self-destruct. “Sometimes, it takes two to fully eliminate the projectile,” he added.
Rafael has stepped up the production of interceptors, to ensure that stocks remain replenished throughout the conflict with Hamas.  “Production is more intensive now, in light of the situation,” he said. Prior to becoming operational, the battery’s operators had to ensure that they were coordinated with civilian air traffic controllers to avoid disruption to passenger jets. “Flights at Ben-Gurion [Airport] haven’t stopped because there is no danger whatsoever. We’re fully synchronized with air traffic control,” he said. “We can deal with many rockets fired at the same time,” Abu added. “A rocket falling in this built-up urban area would be disastrous. We’re driven by the goal of keeping the people of central Israel safe.”

^ This is just amazing. Only a few months ago Israel was victim to every missile fired at it and now they can protect themselves and their citizens from many of them. Of course it would be good if there were no more missiles or that the Iron Dome could shoot down every one, but its a start. I am surprised that the US and other countries don't have the same system at least planned. Hopefully, Hamas and the other anti-Israel groups and countries will think twice before attacking Israel and those that are attacking them will stop now. Israel has the capability to destroy most of the organizations and countries that want to wipe them off the face of the Earth and yet they restrain themselves because they simply want to be left in peace. The fact that reservists are protecting the cities and public show how truly committed Israel is to stopping the violence thrown at them. They are brave men and women who put their own lives on hold to protect their country in its time of need.  ^