Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Queen's/King's Day

From BBC:
"Willem-Alexander sworn in as king of the Netherlands"

Willem-Alexander has been sworn in as king of the Netherlands following the abdication of Queen Beatrix. He became the country's first king since 1890 when his 75-year-old mother signed the abdication deed earlier on Tuesday after 33 years on the throne. The day's celebrations culminated in a water pageant, with the king sailing down Amsterdam's River IJ, greeting the thousands of people lining the banks. Some 200 boats took part in the royal flotilla, many decorated in orange. From a stage on the riverbank, the royal family were treated to a video montage of the country's sporting achievements since the king's birth 46 years ago. Earlier in the day, the new king swore to uphold the constitution at a colourful enthronement ceremony in the Nieuwe Kerk, a decommissioned church, before a joint session of the Dutch parliament. "I swear that I shall defend and preserve the independence and territory of the state with all my powers," he said. "That I shall protect the general and individual freedom and rights of all my subjects and shall use all available means granted to me by law for preserving and promoting general and individual prosperity as I befitting of a good king.... So help me God almighty." An estimated 25,000 people crowded into the square outside cheered as the announcement of his inauguration was made amid a trumpet fanfare. Many international royals and high-ranking dignitaries are taking part in the events, including the UK's Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain and Denmark's Crown Prince Frederik and his wife.

Abdication day in the Netherlands:

  • 10:00 local time (08:00 GMT) - Queen Beatrix signs the act of abdication at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam
  • 10:30 - the former queen, now Princess Beatrix, and the new King Willem-Alexander appear on the palace balcony, with new Queen Maxima
  • 14:00 - King Willem-Alexander is sworn in at the Nieuwe Kerk
  • 19:30 - performance of The Song for the King followed by a water pageant

Willem-Alexander has said he wants to "be a king that can bring society together, representative and encouraging in the 21st Century". He has said he does not expect to be called "his majesty," saying people can address him "as they wish". He is the seventh monarch from the House of Orange-Nassau, which has ruled the Netherlands since the early 19th Century. Under Dutch law, the monarch has few powers and the role is considered ceremonial. He or she is expected to be politically impartial, co-sign acts of parliament, help with the formation of new governments and to undertake state visits.
King Willem-Alexander has become not only the monarch of the Netherlands but also the Dutch Caribbean territories of Curacao, Aruba and Sint Maarten. He holds several military titles but requested an honourable discharge before his accession.

^ I wonder if King Willem-Alexander will follow the tradition that his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother did and abdicate. I think a monarch should only abdicate if they become too ill. It has been over 100 years since there has been a King of the Netherlands and I am curious if the new monarch will break from tradition and if so how. ^


Monday, April 29, 2013

Mostar Kiss

From Balkan Insight:
"Croat-Serb Kiss Photo ‘Symbolises New Era’"

The photograph, which shows the young couple kissing while draped in their respective national flags, was described as a sign of reconciliation among the younger generation after it was uploaded to the online image service ingur. The Serb was walking through Mostar holding hands with his Croatian girlfriend, and when an older woman asked how she could walk that way with a Serb, the girl responded by kissing the boy, said a comment posted alongside the picture by someone who saw it taken. “It is nothing special really, a couple showing affection, but for us here in Mostar, it is evidence that new generations are not willing to continue with war in their minds,” the comment said.
The picture is said to have been taken during a parade staged by the pro-tolerance United World college in Mostar. US news website the Huffington Post republished the photo, calling the kiss “the bravest thing ever”, while another US site, MSN, said: “You can tell a story in a thousand words, but sometimes one image sums it up beautifully.” Mostar was devastated during the Bosnian war and still suffers from ethnic divisions some two decades later. Such moves have been highly infrequent since Yugoslavia dissolved in the early 1990s and Croatia’s declaration of independence resulted in a bloody Croat-Serb war. Relations between the neighbours, which had warmed after the overthrow of the Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, turned distinctly icy after a more nationalist coalition came to power in Serbia last year. Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic did not attend the inauguration of his Serbian counterpart, Tomislav Nikolic, after the latter appeared to express support for a ‘Greater Serbia’. Relations worsened again last November after the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia acquitted two Croatian wartime generals, causing an outcry in Serbia.

^ I was in Mostar and had many nice people help us during our short stay. I don't know if they were Serbian, Croatian or Bosniak. All I know is they were nice, friendly and helpful. Hopefully, the younger generation will continue what this couple is doing to add the decades of separation between all the groups. ^


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Royal Europe

From DW:
"European royalty's next generation"

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands will pass the crown to her son on April 30. The next generation is waiting in other European monarchies, as well, but a sudden surge of new faces on European thrones is unlikely.  After 30 years on the throne, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands declared in a televised address in January, shortly before her 75th birthday, she would abdicate on Koniginnedag (Queen's Day) on April 30, 2013. "I am abdicating not because my duties are becoming too burdensome, but because I am convinced that it is time for the responsibility for our country to pass to a new generation," Beatrix declared matter-of-factly. "On 30 April this year, with the utmost confidence, I shall hand over the duties of the monarchy to my son, the Prince of Orange." For many Dutch and monarchy fans in all of Europe, the step didn't really come as a surprise, as Beatrix's mother and her grandmother had also relinquished the crown to make way for the next generation. In the other reigning monarchies in Europe, the kings and queens are well past retirement age as well. There will be a lot of passing-on-the-scepter in a few years for biological reasons alone. Spry British Queen Elizabeth II recently turned 87. Her son Charles has been waiting for a long time and, at 64 years of age, is about to become a grandfather. Denmark's Queen, chain-smoker Margrethe II is 73 years old, and her son Frederick is 44. At 76, introverted King Harald of Norway is one year ahead of Beatrix; his son and successor Haakon is 40 years old. In Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf, 68, manages to hang on to the crown, despite his various sexual affairs having been made public. His daughter Victoria, 35, is much more popular with the subjects and would be accepted as queen immediately.
In Belgium, almost 80-year-old Albert II holds the reigns. His son Phillipp is 53 and has already taken over numerous tasks from his father. In Spain, the monarch is under a lot of pressure from the "real world," because he is suspected by some of being involved in a bribery scandal. King Juan Carlos, 75, is in poor health and, after a slew of extramarital affairs, far from the popular monarch he once was. Crown prince Felipe would like to supersede his father, but "the king will never abdicate." At least that's what Juan Carlos' wife Queen Sofia says about him.Historian and royalty expert Monika Wienfort from the University of Braunschweig in northern Germany does not believe that the people want to get rid of elderly monarchs. More royal abdications like the one in the Netherlands aren't impossible. Every king or queen has the right to step down from the throne. If the pope can do it, so can the crowned heads of Europe, historian and monarchy researcher Rolf-Ulrich Kunze says. But just because they can does not mean they are likely to do so, as Kunze pointed out to DW: "It's hard to tell whether one of them would, because it's always connected to very personal constellations, to the family situation in the royal dynasties. And this has less to do with structural things like constitutional questions." The Netherlands are not a model for the British monarchy, according to Kunze. While the Dutch look at their monarch as a functional head of state with political tasks, the British Queen, who has been on the throne for nearly 61 years, epitomizes the national identity. "They're very different cases. The two dynasties have taken different paths because of the functions they fulfill in their respective countries," Kunze said.The parliamentary monarchies in seven European countries aren't going anywhere in the near future, according to royalty historian Wienfort. "I believe most citizens in monarchies are actually enjoying their royals. In the Netherlands for example people are looking forward to the Koniginnedag, when Beatrix will abdicate, as a big celebration." There are no serious intentions to get rid of this form of government in any of the countries, only small protests by republican-minded groups, Wienford explained. "Every now and then, these groups are looking for a way into the spotlight. But they don't actually stand a chance in achieving a turn away from the monarchy." Monarchism has survived in Europe in places where there were no revolutions or uprisings like the ones in France, Italy or Germany. In the worst-case scenario, fallen kings and queens could always move in with their relatives abroad, because all of Europe's royal families are somehow related to one another and to German aristocracy.

^ It's interesting to see the way the different monarchs are viewed in their own countries. Unless something major happens I don't see Queen Elizabeth 2 (Queen of the UK, Canada and other countries) abdicating while the Dutch Queens have all abdicated. ^

USHMM @ 20

From USA Today:
"Survivors will help mark Holocaust museum anniversary"

As the museum turns 20, officials understand that the demise of those who survived the prison camps as children means looking backward in a different way. The adult survivors of the Holocaust are mostly gone now, and those who survived as children — and were old enough at the time to remember their ordeals — are now in their 70s and 80s.  It won't be long before no eyewitnesses remain. That's why, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum marks its 20th anniversary Monday with more than 750 survivors, museum officials are calling it one of the last large gatherings of those who managed to escape Hitler's death machine. For those who have dedicated themselves to teaching future generations about the Holocaust and its victims, the demise of the survivors means looking backward in a different way — a way that no longer includes people looking others straight in the face and recounting what they saw and what they lived. You can read all the documentation of the Holocaust in the world, said Diane Saltzman, director of survivor affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, "but hearing somebody's voice, sitting across the table or across the room from a human being, there's no true substitute."Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, wants his classes to understand this. "I tell my students annually that they have a special responsibility," he said. "They are the last generation that will be able to say that they personally knew survivors of the Holocaust. It is a big change, just like it was when the last Civil War veteran passed from the scene." The Holocaust, now "perceived history," will become "received" history, Sarna said. The challenge is that it doesn't recede from memory. Holocaust educators take heart in the many institutions and younger people committed to ensuring that future generations will know about the 6 million Jews who died; of the concentration camps, gas chambers and crematoria set up to carry out Hitler's "Final Solution"; and of the 5 million Roma (Gypsies), gay people and others murdered because the Nazis deemed them, like the Jews, unworthy of life. That's the mission of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said Saltzman, which has hosted some 35 million visitors since it opened just off the National Mall in 1993. The institution is full of audio and video testimony from survivors, artifacts from their lives before and after they were sent to concentration camps, and films and diaries that document the genocide. "The museum stands as that eyewitness going forward," Saltzman said. "We are the repository of all that evidence, and all of those memories." From the Washington museum to Jerusalem's Yad Vashem to smaller museums around the world, these institutions preserve history that will soon no longer be passed on firsthand. So, too, does Holocaust literature, from Anne Frank's famous diary to Night, by survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who will give the keynote speech at the Washington museum's anniversary Monday, alongside former president Bill Clinton. The Shoah Foundation, based at the University of Southern California, has videotaped testimony from more than 51,000 survivors since film director Steven Spielberg started the project in 1994, when there were about 350,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide.
Curriculum programs in schools introduce children in the U.S. and elsewhere to the Holocaust, and these programs will continue, even when survivors aren't part of them anymore. Norman Frajman, 83, thinks of that day. He was 10 years old when World War II began, and has sharp memories of life in the Warsaw Ghetto and of the Majdanek death camp in eastern Poland, where his mother and younger sister died. All told, he lost 126 members of his immediate and extended family. "I probably wouldn't remember what I had for breakfast, but I remember all that happened to me during the carnage," said Frajman, who now lives in Boynton Beach, Fla., and has been sharing his testimony with schoolchildren for more than 30 years. But not with young children. "The atrocities are indescribable. I can't address anyone at the elementary school level," he said. "It's too graphic." For all the graphic details available from survivors, and primary and secondary texts and film, Holocaust denial still thrives on the Internet and in many parts of the world where anti-Semitism has strong roots. Even in the presence of Holocaust survivors, there are people who insist the genocide never happened, Sarna said. The hope, when there are no more survivors, is that the museums and the video archives will make it "impossible for most people to accept the word of the deniers." In the meantime, as long as he is able, Frajman will tell his story and teach about the Holocaust in hopes of preventing another one. "Yesterday it was directed against the Jews. Tomorrow it could be against Christians, the next day against Muslims — unless people heed and listen," he said. But he is optimistic that his words and those of other survivors will resonate long after he is gone. "Judging by today's young people that I encounter when I go to schools to speak, we are in for a better tomorrow," Frajman said. "They listen. They are very perceptive. They take it to heart."

^ I worked at the USHMM and know how important it is for places like them to continue to teach people about the Holocaust and also the other genocides that happened and continue to happen. ^


Friday, April 26, 2013

Lincoln And Kennedy

Saw this on Facebook:

About Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy:

Have a history teacher explain this if they can.

- Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846. -  John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

- Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.  - John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

- Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.

- Both wives lost a child while living in the White House.

- Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.

- Both Presidents were shot in the head.
- Lincoln's secretary was named Kennedy.   -  Kennedy's Secretary was named Lincoln.

- Both were assassinated by Southerners.

- Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.

- Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.  - Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

- John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1839.  - Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was born in 1939.

- Both assassins were known by their three names.

- Both names are composed of fifteen letters.

- Lincoln was shot at the theater named "Ford."   - Kennedy was shot in a car called "Lincoln" made by "Ford."

-  Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.

 -  A week before Lincoln was shot, he was in Monroe, Maryland.   - A week before Kennedy was shot, he was with Marilyn Monroe.

 -  Lincoln was shot in a theater and the assassin ran to a warehouse...  - Kennedy was shot from a warehouse and the assassin ran to a theater...
^ I thought was interesting considering they were about 100 years apart.  ^

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Internet Sales Tax

From Yahoo:
"Few senators block vote on Internet sales tax bill"

A handful of senators from states without sales taxes are blocking a bill that would tax Internet purchases. They don't have enough support to kill the bill, but they can delay a final vote until Friday — or even this weekend — if senators don't reach an agreement to vote earlier. The bill would empower states to require online retailers to collect state and local sales taxes for purchases made over the Internet. Under the bill, the sales taxes would be sent to the states where a shopper lives.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is leading the fight against the bill. Oregon, Montana, New Hampshire and Delaware have no sales taxes, though the two senators from Delaware support the bill. "It's coercive. It requires a number of states to collect the taxes of other states thousands of miles away against their will," Wyden said in an interview. "It's discrimination because this forces some people online to carry out responsibilities that brick and mortar retailers do not have to do." Wyden said the bill also gives an advantage to foreign retailers. Supporters say the bill treats foreign retailers the same as domestic ones, but opponents question the ability of states to enforce state tax laws on companies based in other countries. The bill has already survived two procedural votes this week, getting 74 votes in favor each time. If senators don't reach an agreement to vote earlier, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened to hold a vote shortly after midnight Friday morning to end the debate. The Senate is scheduled to go on vacation next week, and Reid vowed to pass the bill before senators leave town. Wyden said he doesn't want to inconvenience senators eager to go home. But, he added, "I don't want to have our constituents rolled over in the process." Under current law, states can only require stores to collect sales taxes if the store has a physical presence in the state. As a result, many online sales are essentially tax-free, giving Internet retailers an advantage over brick-and-mortar stores. Supporters say the bill is about fairness for local businesses that already collect sales taxes, and lost revenue for states. Opponents say the bill would impose complicated regulations on retailers and doesn't have enough protections for small businesses. Businesses with less than $1 million a year in online sales would be exempt. Many of the nation's governors — Republicans and Democrats — have been lobbying the federal government for years for the authority to collect sales taxes from online sales. The issue is getting bigger for states as more people make purchases online. Last year, Internet sales in the U.S. totaled $226 billion, up nearly 16 percent from the previous year, according to Commerce Department estimates. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that states lost $23 billion last year because they couldn't collect taxes on out-of-state sales.

^ I live in a tax-free state and so this wouldn't affect me, but I am still 100% against this. I think we should keep the status quo where the business has to have a physical presence in the state you live in in order to collect taxes. I think it is worth stating that the Congressmen/women from states that have no sales tax (and thus not affected by this new bill) are the ones standing up against it for the states and residents that live there who would be affected by it. Congress needs to start focusing on its budget problems and the effects of sequestration rather than this Internet Sales Tax bill or immigration. ^


Russians Rewriting History

From MT:
"Debate Rages Over State History Textbooks"
As part of his effort to promote patriotism among younger generations of Russians, President Vladimir Putin has proposed creating a single set of history textbooks for schoolchildren, arguing that there should be more consistency in what students are taught and that textbooks should be free of internal contradictions and ambiguities. Speaking at a meeting of the Kremlin council on interethnic relations in February, Putin said textbooks must be "designed for different ages but built around a single concept, with the logical continuity of Russian history, the relationship between the different stages in history, and respect for all the pages of our past." He called for specific proposals to be prepared by November. Advocates of the new textbooks say discord in the historical narrative has brought about a lack of patriotism in the country, while opponents say they fear that failures of state policies will be omitted to promote a more positive image of the country, with the emphasis exclusively on victories and achievements. The president's initiative is supported by many, but it faces strong resistance from some school teachers. Tatyana Kartashova, a history teacher at High School 272 in northern Moscow, said that while she does not hold "democratic views," she cannot help but acknowledge that the project bears some similarities to Soviet methods. "It was predictable that authoritarian power would try to establish a single ideology," she said. "Of course, it will be easier for children and teachers because a limited amount of information is always easier than when there are different approaches. All philosophy will be deleted from history," Kartashova said. The unified textbooks are set be written over the course of two years by Russian historians — professors at Moscow State University, St. Petersburg State University and Russian State University for the Humanities — who are supposed to find a consensus on how to present the more controversial events of Russian history. The project will entail creating not one textbook for all ages but a series of books for each grade, as well as different textbooks for ordinary schools and those specializing in the humanities. The first step of the initiative will involve a review of the current textbooks, a job to be done by a working group composed of experts from the Academy of Sciences, the Historical Society and the Military History Society. At the moment, a presidential decree to create the group is anticipated. No information has been made available on how much the textbook will cost to develop. At an All-Russia People's Front conference in March, Putin said he was closely following the public discussion surrounding the initiative. "I absolutely agree that there should be a 'canonical version of our history' for the sake of national unity, and it should be reflected in a unified textbook, but that doesn't mean that a teacher shouldn't present the students with different points of view," Putin said at the conference. It is not clear whether Putin will play a role in the creation of the textbooks. The initiative has provoked a great deal of discussion on the Internet, with many comparisons being made to Soviet history textbooks, the writing of which was personally controlled by Soviet leader Josef Stalin during his time in power. The Stalin-era textbook was focused on the idea of continuity and succession. Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great were presented as patriots building a strong nation and battling foreign invaders, with Stalin depicted as their successor in these endeavors. Textbooks of the later Soviet period were of a similar nature to the one used under Stalin. The main focus was given to the history of the Communist Party, and generally one perspective was provided on each issue. "There will be fewer and fewer people who can think, and any crisis for them will be a tragedy like the '90s was for the Soviet people, because they will think only the way they were taught," said Kartashova, the history teacher. The issue of Russian history took on special importance after the collapse of the U.S.S.R., when former Soviet republics, particularly the Baltic states, and former Soviet allies in Eastern Europe said Russians had occupied their countries during Soviet rule and during the reign of the Russian Empire.
"Textbooks of former Soviet republics still show Russia as a colonizer, imperialist and invader, but we want to teach our children without aggression and bias," said Yury Petrov, head of the Russian History Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences.  It is believed that the last 20 years of Russian history constitute one of the most difficult periods to teach, given the fierce and still fresh debates in society over the causes and impact of such events as the privatization of state property, which helped some Russians gain huge riches overnight. Kartashova said it was a shame that the government apparently did not want to listen to the opinion of school history teachers, most of whom, according to her, are not in favor of the idea of a single textbook. "As the great Russian historian Vasily Klyuchevsky put it, a chronicler sees history from the window of the princely palace, so our children will now see history from the window of the princely palace, too," she said.
^ They say that history is written by the winners and for the past 20+ years Russian schools have used a more Western-style set of history textbooks (as the West won the Cold War.) While I agree that every Russian should be proud of their country and it's past (as every county in the world should) you can not simply rewrite your own history to fit your political needs. That was what Hitler and the Soviets both did to their textbooks and it wasn't right. There are bad events and periods of time in Russian history  - as with every country - that need to be addressed and shouldn't be ignored. Even in the Soviet period there were good things (industrialization, modernization, being a Super Power, having the first man in space, being a World War 2 victor, etc) those can be intertwined with the bad aspects (Stalin, the Gulag system, deportations, dictatorship, stagnation, food and consumer product shortages, lack of freedom, the KGB, occupying Eastern Europe, occupying the Baltics, violent put-down of revolts in and outside the USSR, etc.) Germany was made to face its past deeds done during World War 1 and World War 2 and now the new generations of Germans learn about the horrors their grandparents did during the Holocaust while at the same time see how far their parents and country have come in the past few decades. The Russians should try and do the same (especially when dealing with the Soviet period.) ^


The Impossible (2012)

I just watched this movie and really liked it. It is based on the true story of Maria Belon and her family during the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The film shows a British family vacationing in Thailand when the wave hit. It has a good cast: Naomi Watts as the mother, Ewan McGregor as the father, Tom Holland as their 12 year old son and even Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin's daughter.) It shows the human aspect of the tragedy and how individuals react and try to survive to a disaster. It also shows that in times of need people can be caring and helpful. While I don't want to give away the film I think everyone should watch it since any one of us can suffer a disaster wherever we are.

RI Marriage

From the BBC:
"Rhode Island to legalise gay marriage after Senate vote"

Rhode Island's state legislature has approved a bill legalising gay marriage, making it the 10th US state to back same-sex marriages. The state Senate passed the legislation in a 26-12 vote.  A similar bill passed easily in the state House in January and has the support of Governor Lincoln Chafee.
Rhode Island was the last state in the New England region to allow gay marriage. Hundreds of supporters in the statehouse cheered the vote. The bill now returns to the state House to approve minor changes made since January. A final vote could come as early as next week. When Governor Chafee signs the bill into law, gay marriage will be legal in 10 states and Washington DC, the nation's capital city. On Tuesday, the Senate's five Republicans announced they would all support the legislation.  The legislation states that religious institutions may set their own rules for whom they deem eligible to marry. It also specifies that no religious leader is obligated to perform any marriage ceremony.

^ And the trend continues. ^


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Swiss Restricts EU

From Yahoo:
"Switzerland to restrict Western Europe immigration"

The Swiss government said Wednesday it plans to restrict immigration from Western European countries starting next month, citing constant growth in the number of people coming to work in the prosperous non-European Union country. Under a "safeguard clause" in Switzerland's agreements with the EU, the Alpine nation already imposes quotas on long-term residence permits for people from eight eastern European countries. The government said it expects to apply it starting for a one-year period starting in May to the other western and southern EU countries. During this period, the country will issue a maximum of 2,180 long-term permits for migrants from the new EU member states and 53,700 for migrants from the 'old' EU member states. A government statement said in recent years the number of foreigners arriving in Switzerland to work has been up to 80,000 higher each year than the number leaving. Restricting permits "can help to make immigration more acceptable to society," the statement said. Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, criticized Switzerland's new immigration regulations. "The measures disregard the great benefits that the free movement of persons brings to the citizens of both Switzerland and the EU," Ashton said in a statement.

^ It seems that Switzerland wanted the benefits of being in the EU and Schengen without actually being in the EU. Since they have the special clause (like Ireland and the UK) then they can do whatever they want. ^


Symbols Banned

From Yahoo:
"Hungary OKs limit to Nazi, communist symbols"

Hungary's parliament has overwhelmingly approved a modified plan to restrict the display of Nazi and communist symbols such as the swastika and red star. Similar rules were declared unconstitutional in February because they were found to be too broad and an excessive restriction on freedom of speech. But lawmakers believe they have clarified the rules to pass constitutional muster.
The proposal taking effect April 30 was approved Monday in a 320-6 vote, with two abstentions. The ban also covers SS insignia, the arrow cross — a symbol of a 1940s Hungarian pro-Nazi party — and the hammer and sickle. The new rule specifies that the symbols are banned if they upset peace and order. The court decision followed a similar ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

^ It's a step in the right direction, but I think ALL Nazi and Soviet (and Confederate) symbols should be banned. ^


Bombers' Family

From the CBC:
"Family of accused bombers divided over allegations"

The family of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev vehemently disagree over the possibility of their relatives' role in the Boston Marathon bombings. Dzhokhar was detained Friday night after a lengthy manhunt. His brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan, died earlier following a shootout with police after a carjacking and robbery. After U.S. authorities identified the brothers as primary suspects in Monday's bombings, a conflicting portrait began to emerge of two young men who appeared to fit into their American lives, but experts say social isolation in an unfamiliar culture may have led them to turn to radical Islam. Family members are unsure what to believe. Some are demanding evidence that the two men they claim are not highly religious were involved in the attack. Others are denouncing the pair, saying they brought shame to the family name. The brothers and their extended family are ethnic Chechens. The boys' uncle, Ruslan Tsarni (61), held a press conference to speak with reporters camping out on his property. He called the people responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings "losers," suggesting it may be his nephews who are responsible. He said he had not spoken to the pair since Dec. 2005 due to a private family fight. However, yesterday, one of the men called him and reconciled. Ruslan's brother, Alvi Tsarni, told media the nephews would send Ruslan threatening messages. Once, on the phone, one of the men tried to convince Alvi that if he was manly, he would join the men in their fight. Tsarni offered his condolences to the victims of the bombings, and called on the surviving nephew to surrender to police and ask for forgiveness. He said he can only think of two reasons someone could commit such an atrocitiy: "Being losers [and] hatred to those who were able to settle themselves." Tsarni said he had no inclination the men had anti-American sentiments, and said his family is ashamed of their alleged actions. "Of course we're ashamed. Yes, we're ashamed," he said. "They're children of my brother." However, he stresses his brother could not be responsible for feeding them anti-American beliefs. Anzor worked tirelessly to feed his family, spending lots of his time fixing cars at mechanic shops, Tsarni said. The Wall Street Journal reports Anzor dreamed of opening his own shop, but never mastered English and struggled working odd mechanic jobs for about $10 an hour. Anzor, the father of the suspects, says that Dzhokhar is a smart and accomplished young man. One of their sisters, Alina Tsarnaeva, reluctantly echoed this sentiment about both her brothers to reporters from The Star-Ledger of Newark. They spoke to her at her apartment while she stood behind a slightly opened door. Alina called Dzhokhar "an amazing child" and Tamerlan "a kind and loving man."She said she does not know if her brothers are behind Monday's bombings because "at the end of the day, no one knows the truth." While he wants his son to give up peacefully, Anzor told ABC News that if the U.S. kills Dzhokhar, "all hell will break loose." He said his sons called him earlier this week and reassured him they were okay. An Interfax correspondent has also spoken to a man claiming to be Anzor, who said he learned about the incident from TV reports. "My opinion is the special services have framed my children, because they are practicing Muslims. Why did they kill Tamerlan? He was supposed to be caught alive," the man said. Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, their mother, told CNN she believed this was a setup. She said it was "impossible" her sons did this because they would never hide this type of activity from her. Tsarnaeva also told CNN that her older son, Tamerlan, got involved in religious politics about five years ago. She told the U.S. network she believed the FBI had consulted her son. She said the FBI knew what her son was doing and said they knew what sites on the internet he was visiting. A federal law enforcement official said the FBI interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaevt at the request of a foreign government in 2011 and that nothing derogatory was found, The Associated Press reported. The FBI shared its information with the foreign government, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the case publicly. The official did not say what country made the request about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, or why. Their paternal aunt, Maret, told CBC news she believed her nephews are innocent and demanded proof of their guilt. She also believes Tamerlan is still alive. "They have no motive for that," she said. "It's just not the case, it cannot be true." Ratelle dismissed the family's claims of a setup as a "typical narrative" from Chechen families when faced with a shameful situation. He said Chechen society is based on honour and shame, and it can be seen as very shameful to be related to suicide bombers. So, this may be the family's coping mechanism for rejecting the shame associated with the men's actions. All the family members who have spoken publicly seem to agree that Dzhokhar should surrender peacefully, though some say he should beg for forgiveness, while others say he should demand to see any alleged proof of his guilt.

^ This article was written before the last terrorist was caught, but it shows the delusion that most of the family is dealing with. Not only are the bombers' parents unable or unwilling to accept the facts but also the older brother's wife. The parents both didn't seem surprised that the older brother was involved, but were about the younger one. Along with that the older brother's American wife (who converted to Islam after marrying him) seems to be either completely in denial or covering-up since she lived in the same house as the bomber and their child. I don't know why the FBI didn't question the wife and the bombers' sisters much sooner (right after they were identified.) It seems that the only person in all of this who truly cares that justice be done is the uncle, Ruslan Tsarni. Hopefully he is being truthful and can help the Government get to the bottom of all this since the wife and the parents don't seem to be doing anything to help. ^


Armenian Genocide

From Wikipedia:
"Genocide Remembrance Day"

Genocide Remembrance Day (Armenian: Եղեռնի զոհերի հիշատակի օր) or Genocide Memorial Day, is a national holiday in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and is observed by Armenians in dispersed communities around the world on April 24.  It is held annually to commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide from 1915 to 1923. In Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, hundreds of thousands of people walk to the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial to lay flowers at the eternal flameThe date 24 April commemorates the Armenian notables deported from the Ottoman capital in 1915, of hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders, most of whom would be executed, which was a precursor to the ensuing events. The date was chosen by Lebanese Armenians to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Genocide in 1965. The same day witnessed illegal demonstrations staged by Armenians in Yerevan the capital of Soviet Armenia. The Armenian protests got out of control and calm was restored with difficulty. On 9 April 1975, the US House of Representatives passed Joint Resolution 148 designating 24 April as a National Day of Remembrance of Man’s Inhumanity to Man. The Resolution commemorated the victims of genocide, especially those of Armenian ancestry who succumbed to the genocide perpetrated in 1915, The resolution however failed to pass in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee due to President Gerald R. Ford’s strong opposition to what he saw as a threat to the country's strategic alliance with Turkey. Popularity of the day rose in diaspora as a result of anti-Turkish operations by Armenian groups such as the ASALA, and attendance of Genocide Day demonstrations rose in France from several hundreds to over 10,000 in 1981. Soviet Armenia formally adopted 24 April as a public day of commemoration in 1988. In 1997 the California State Assembly declared 24 April as a Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Genocide of 1915–1923, and for the victims of the Sumgait Pogroms of 1988 and Baku Riots of 1990.

^ It is just as important to remember the Armenian Genocide as it is the Jewish Holocaust (and all the other genocides since.) I had a Great-Uncle whose family was directed affected by the Armenian Genocide. Many people don't know about what the Armenians in the what was the Ottoman Empire went through and it is time people started. ^


Another Nazi Found

From the BBC:
"Former Auschwitz Nazi guard Hans Lipschis found in Germany"

Prosecutors in the German city of Stuttgart have confirmed they are investigating a former Nazi SS man for crimes at the Auschwitz death camp.  Hans Lipschis, 93, worked at the camp in German-occupied Poland from 1941 - he says as a cook, German media report.  His name appears as number four on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most-wanted Nazis.  German media have identified him as living in Aalen in southern Germany. He has not yet been charged. Lipschis is among 50 former Auschwitz staff, still alive, who are being newly investigated by the German authorities. Auschwitz was the biggest Nazi death camp, where more than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, were murdered. Prosecutors point to a re-interpretation of criminal law after the conviction of John Demjanjuk, in May 2011.  Demjanjuk was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews while he was a guard at the Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland. His case means that potential defendants such as Hans Lipschis might no longer be able to hide behind the argument, in court, that they were simply following orders.  "Simply being where the killing took place would be enough for a conviction," according to Kurt Schrimm, head of Germany's Central Judicial Office for the Investigation of Nazi crimes.  He says the purpose of pursuing suspects now is to create a sense that justice is being done and to shed light on historical events. "We owe it to the survivors not simply to say that a certain time has passed and that it should be swept under the carpet," he says. Hans Lipschis' wartime identification papers prove he belonged to an SS-company deployed as guards in Auschwitz.  It is not clear what role, if any, he had in the mass murder of inmates. He has told neighbours and reporters he worked only as a cook and saw nothing of the gas chambers and crematoria.  One German newspaper says Lipschis, who was born in what is now Lithuania in 1919, finished World War II fighting for Germany on the eastern front.  He moved to Chicago in the US in 1956, where he lived until 1983, when he was expelled for having concealed his Nazi past.  At the time it could not be proved that he was personally responsible for any killings. He returned to Germany and his whereabouts, in Aalen, has apparently always been known to the authorities. He may now be charged with being an accessory to murder. It is not yet clear if and when his case will come to trial.

^ This is good news and shows the German Government now is determined to bring the Nazis to justice. ^


New $100s

From USA Today:
"Fed: Redesigned $100 bill coming in October"

The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday that it will begin circulating a redesigned $100 bill this fall, more than two years after its initial target. The Fed has set a target date of Oct. 8. The redesigned note incorporates added security features, such as a blue, 3-D security ribbon and a disappearing Liberty Bell in an inkwell. The features are designed to thwart counterfeiters. The revamped bill had been expected to go into circulation in February 2011. But in December 2010, officials announced an indefinite delay. They said they needed more time to fix production issues that left unwanted creases in many of the notes. Benjamin Franklin's portrait will remain on the $100 bill, the highest value denomination in general circulation and the most frequent target of counterfeiters. The $100 bill is the last note to undergo an extensive redesign aimed at thwarting counterfeiters who have access to ever-more sophisticated copying machines. The redesigns began in 2003 when the government added splashes of color to the $20 bill. That makeover was followed by redesigns for the $50, $10 and $5 bills. The $1 bill isn't getting a makeover. An extensive public education effort is planned for businesses and consumers around the world to raise awareness of the new design and provide information on how to use the new security features. More information about the redesigned $100 bill can be found at newmoney.gov.

^ I don't think the new bills look all that great and the $100 bill follows all the other ones. Even though you can continue to use all the old bills alongside the new ones if you travel outside the US you have to make sure you only have the new ones. I have had problems exchanging old bills for local currency, but now know to bring only new bills with me. I guess the extensive public education effort for the world isn't that extensive. ^


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

No Knives

From the BBC:
"TSA proposal to allow knives on planes delayed"

The US transport safety authority has delayed a proposal to allow some small pocket knives aboard US flights for the first time since the 9/11 attacks. The policy shift, which encountered fierce resistance from the public and the flight attendants' union, was to take effect on 25 April. The delay was announced by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) chief John Pistole on Monday.
He had said the change would free screeners to focus on other threats. Last month, Mr Pistole proposed allowing passengers to bring blades shorter than 2.36in (6cm) and narrower than 0.5in in plane cabins. Also under the new policy, billiard cues, ski poles, and lacrosse and hockey sticks would be allowed in aeroplane cabins in carry-on luggage. The TSA said the rules would bring the US into line with international guidelines and offer a better experience for passengers. But in a letter to TSA employees released on Monday, Mr Pistole said the delay would allow for further consultation with aviation security experts.

^ This was a bad idea from the start and I think this "delay" is a way for the TSA and John Pistole to save some face before it goes completely off the books. ^


CDN Terror

From the BBC:
"Canada train 'al-Qaeda plot' suspect in court"

A man arrested in Canada on suspicion of planning what officials say was an al-Qaeda-backed plot to attack a train has appeared in court in Toronto. Raed Jaser, 35, did not enter a plea during his brief appearance, when the court approved a ban on publishing evidence and testimony in the case. A second suspect, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, is due in court in Montreal later. Officials said the alleged plot had support from al-Qaeda in Iran, although there was no sign of state sponsorship.  Canadian authorities said the two suspects were arrested in Montreal and Toronto on Monday.  Mr Jaser is understood to be a United Arab Emirates national of Palestinian origin, while Mr Esseghaier is thought to be Tunisian. Mr Esseghaier was studying for a doctorate at National Institute for Scientific Research near Montreal, while Mr Jaser reportedly worked as a customer service representative at a removal firm. Mr Jaser wore a long beard during Tuesday's hearing, which was reportedly attended by his parents and brother. The two accused face charges of conspiracy to carry out an attack and kill people in association with a terrorist group.

The imam was worried that young people in the city were being corrupted by an extremist, reports said. Authorities say the two accused had planned to derail a passenger train in the Greater Toronto area. The alleged attack was "definitely in the planning stage but not imminent", Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Chief Superintendent Jennifer Strachan said on Monday. The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing sources, said a Toronto-New York City train was to be the target.
'Hilarious' But VIA Rail, which operates passenger rail services across Canada and carries nearly four million passengers annually, said the public was never in danger. The RCMP said the investigation was a collaborative effort with FBI agents from the US.

^ People around the world need to remember that Muslim extremists want to attack and kill people anywhere in the Western World. They have carried out attacks in: Russia, the UK, Spain, the US, Canada and many other places. In the past 15 years the attackers have all fit the same, basic profile (including what just happened in Boston and now in Canada.) You would think that world governments would notice this trend and start focusing on those profiles more than any other. ^


French Marriage

From the BBC:
"Same-sex marriage: French parliament approves new law"

France has become the 14th country to approve a law allowing gay marriage. The bill, which also legalises adoption by same-sex couples, was passed by 321 votes to 225 in the French parliament.
The decision follows a divisive public debate with some of the biggest protests seen in France in recent years.  More protests by supporters and opponents are expected and thousands of police have been deployed in central Paris in preparation.  Although previous rallies have been overwhelmingly peaceful, some clashes on the fringes of opponents' protests have been blamed on far-right elements.
Opinion polls suggest a small majority of French people favour gay marriage, but opinion on adoption by same-sex couples is even more divided.  Socialist President Francois Hollande made the law his flagship social reform. He is expected to add his signature to the bill once it has cleared any challenge in the constitutional council. Opponents of the measure, including the opposition UMP party, will try to convince the council that marriage is a constitutional issue.  However, analysts say that the council is unlikely to block the new law.  The first weddings could take place in June, according to Justice Minister Christiane Taubira.  "We believe that the first weddings will be beautiful and that they'll bring a breeze of joy, and that those who are opposed to them today will surely be confounded when they are overcome with the happiness of the newlyweds and the families," she told parliament. France is now the 14th country to legalise gay marriage after New Zealand last week.  It is also the ninth country in Europe to allow same-sex marriage after legalisation in the traditionally liberal Netherlands and Scandinavia, but also in strongly Catholic Portugal and Spain. Legislation is also moving through the UK Parliament. But the measure has aroused stronger than expected opposition in France - a country where the Catholic Church was thought to have lost much of its influence over the public.

^ Looks like this is becoming a trend. I hope it continues to more countries and US States. ^


Monday, April 22, 2013

Kosovo-Serbia Deal

From Reuters:
"EU brokers historic Kosovo deal, door opens to Serbia accession"

Serbia agreed to cede its last remaining foothold in the country's former province of Kosovo on Friday, striking an historic accord to settle relations in exchange for talks on joining the European Union. The deal, brokered by the EU, capped six months of delicate negotiations and marks a milestone for the region's recovery from the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. If implemented, it could unlock Serbia's potential as the largest market in the former Yugoslavia, taking the country from international pariah under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic to the threshold of mainstream Europe. "And the white smoke is out! Habemus pactum! Happy:)))" Kosovo's EU's integration minister, Vlora Citaku, tweeted after the prime ministers of both sides initialed a two-page plan outlining an end to the ethnic partition of Kosovo between its Albanian majority and a small, Belgrade-backed pocket of some 50,000 Serbs in the north. The schism has dogged regional stability and development since Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008. The Kosovo Serbs will almost certainly resist in a region bristling with weapons and deep animosity, and were already demanding a referendum on the deal. In exchange for limited autonomous powers for the Serb north, Serbia agreed not to block Kosovo's path to eventual membership of the EU - a concession Kosovo hailed as recognition of independence. "This agreement is de-jure, legal recognition by Serbia, which will open the way for Kosovo to join international organizations," Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who led a guerrilla insurgency against Milosevic's forces in 1998-99, told reporters. Serbia says it will never recognize as sovereign a territory it considers the cradle of the Serb nation. But Friday's deal reflects a sea change in official policy and a realization in Serbia that it has been swimming against the tide at the expense of its economy. Neighboring Croatia, a wartime foe of Serbia during Yugoslavia's demise, joins the EU on July 1, a sobering reminder for many Serbs of just how far they have fallen behind. Kosovo is recognized by over 90 countries, including the United States and 22 members of the 27-nation EU that Serbia wants to join. But it has yet to join the United Nations, something Serbian ally and U.N. veto-holder Russia holds the key to. Diplomats said the accord was likely to win a provisional green light on Monday from the EU for the start of membership talks with Serbia. A formal decision would come in June. The accession process could help unlock the country's potential as the largest market in the former Yugoslavia and lure much-needed foreign investment to its struggling economy. "It's very important that now what we are seeing is a step away from the past and for both of them a step closer to Europe," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who brokered the deal. Serbian officials said it remained subject to approval by "state bodies" back in Belgrade. "We will inform the EU by letter on Monday whether we accept the deal or not," Prime Minister Ivica Dacic told reporters. Western diplomats said there was very little chance of Serbia reversing course, but cautioned that the real test lay in the implementation. Germany, in particular, "has been very clear on the importance of practical implementation, so that they won't be burned," said a senior Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Kosovo's Thaci said: "This agreement will help us heal wounds of the past, if we have the wisdom and knowledge to implement it in practice. Under the terms, the north of Kosovo will be absorbed into the legal framework of the country but retain limited autonomy in areas of health, education, policing and courts. In a sign of possible resistance to come, Serb municipal lawmakers in northern Kosovo demanded a referendum on whether Kosovo should be part of Serbia or Belgrade should accept the conditions set down by the EU to clinch accession talks. Steeped in history and myth for Serbs, Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 1999, when NATO carried out 11 weeks of air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serbian military forces under Milosevic waging a brutal counter-insurgency campaign.
Kosovo became a ward of the United Nations, but Belgrade retained de facto control over the northern Serb pocket. The partition has frequently flared into violence and frustrated NATO's hopes of cutting back a costly peace force that still numbers 6,000 soldiers. "Likely to be taken as a positive by the market, as this will further anchor reforms in Serbia, albeit accession negotiations are likely to be very long," said Tim Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank.

^ Hopefully both Serbia and Kosovo will enact these provisions and it will bring the two nations together. I don't think Serbia will ever occupy Kosovo again. If they - Serbia - believes that Kosovo is the cradle of the Serbian state than it should have thought about that before murdering the people of Kosovo in the 1990s. Kosovo seems to be standing on its own since leaving Serbia and gaining control from the UN and I hope that continues. ^


Sunday, April 21, 2013

US Death Penalty

From the DPIC:
"States With and Without The Death Penalty"

New Hampshire
North Carolina
South Carolina
South Dakota

- U.S. Gov't
- U.S. Military
Alaska (1957)
Connecticut** (2012)
Hawaii (1957)
Illinois (2011)
Iowa (1965)
Maine (1887)
Massachusetts (1984)
Michigan (1846)
Minnesota (1911)
New Jersey (2007)
New Mexico* (2009)
New York (2007)#
North Dakota (1973)
Rhode Island (1984)***
Vermont (1964)
West Virginia (1965)
Wisconsin (1853)

Dist. of Columbia (1981) 

^ I will never understand why any state or country would abolish the death penalty. I can understand them having tight controls on when to use it (like only during war or for terrorism, etc.) I am really glad that the US Federal Government still has the death penalty since Massachusetts doesn't. Not having it makes the state (and any other one in a similar situation) as weak and a push-over. West Germany abolished their death penalty in the late 1940s (East Germany in the 1980s) and so convicted Nazis, who helped murder millions upon millions of innocent men, women and children, were sent to jail for "life" where the majority were released within years. Does that seem like justice? I don't think so. The only goo thing about East Germany is that they actually punished their Nazis - thanks in part to their Soviet over-seers. Because the bombings in Boston is an act of terrorism the Feds can now step in and if the terrorist lives they can try him and (hopefully) give him the death penalty - something the State of MA wouldn't do. I am surprised that New York State also got rid of the death penalty considering 9-11 happened there and they abolished it afterwards. I guess that it is sometimes good to have the States and Feds at different ends since they can clean up after the others mistakes. ^


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Boston: Timeline

From the BBC:

Thursday 18 April

17:10 local time (21:10 GMT) Police release CCTV images of two suspects they want to question following Monday's bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon which killed three people. "Suspect no. 1" - wearing a dark baseball cap - is later identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26. "Suspect no. 2" - wearing a white baseball cap - is later identified as his younger brother Dzhokhar, 19.

After 22:30 A major police operation gets under way at Watertown near Boston after a police officer is fatally shot at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  It later emerges the brothers hijacked a car and held its owner for half an hour before releasing him at a petrol station. In a car chase with police, the suspects throw explosives and exchange gunfire. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is hit during the shootout, taken into custody and later pronounced dead. Dzhokhar escapes on foot.

Friday 19 April

Before 01:00 FBI agents descend on Watertown in a huge manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

03:00 Residents are told to stay indoors as police search house-to-house.

05:30 Public transport systems are suspended.

06:00 Heavily armed state police begin multiple sweeps of streets in Watertown.

08:00 Stay-indoors order extended to entire city of Boston. Search continues throughout the day.

18:00 Stay-indoors order lifted and public transport reopens.

19:00 Gunfire breaks out in Watertown and police converge on house on Franklin Street. It later emerges that the resident exited his home after the lockdown was lifted and noticed bloodstains near his boat. He lifted the tarp covering the boat and found the suspect in the stern.

A crowd near the scene cheer as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is led away by police.

20:45 Police announce the capture of the suspect and he is being treated at a Massachusetts hospital for gunshot wounds.

22:00 President Barack Obama praises the law-enforcement teams for their work. He adds that many questions remain outstanding about the suspects, including whether they had help from others, and urges the public not to rush to judgement about the suspects' motivations.

^ I have seen lots of misleading items in both the media and social media and wanted to clarify what happened and when. ^


Auschwitz Train

From the BBC:
"Escaping the train to Auschwitz"

On 19 April 1943, a train carrying 1,631 Jews set off from a Nazi detention camp in Belgium for the gas chambers of Auschwitz. But resistance fighters stopped the train. One boy who jumped to freedom that night retains vivid memories, 70 years later. In February 1943, 11-year-old Simon Gronowski was sitting down for breakfast with his mother and sister in their Brussels hiding place when two Gestapo agents burst in. They were taken to the Nazis' notorious headquarters on the prestigious Avenue Louise, used as a prison for Jews and torture chamber for members of the resistance.  Today, Gronowski lives a two-minute walk from this building, where he was held for two nights without food or water. "My parents had made a mistake - only one, but a serious one, which was… to have been born Jewish - a crime that, at the time, could only be punished by death," he says.
From there, Simon and his mother and sister were transferred to the Kazerne Dossin, a detention camp 30 miles away in Mechelen, Flanders. "People were randomly hit sometimes just for the crime of 'looking Jewish', so you had to keep a low profile," says Gronowski. Most of the prisoners knew they would be deported but had no idea, Gronowski says, that they would be executed en masse.
On 18 April, Simon and 1,630 others, including his mother, Chana, were informed they would be deported by train the next day. His father, Leon, had been in hospital when the Germans had raided their home a month before. His mother had quickly thought to tell them she was a widow. His older sister Ita - born in Belgium and already 18 - had Belgian citizenship and was therefore taken in a separate convoy. Simon, who like his parents and most of Belgium's Jewish population was stateless, remembers seeing her for the last time, crying and waving to him as they left. "I didn't really understand what was going on and what deportation would mean. I was still in my own little world, where I was a boy scout," he says. "I thought to myself, 'Goodbye my Brussels, my Belgium, my father, my dear sister, my family and my friends'."Conditions inside the train were atrocious. "We were packed like a herd of cattle. We had only one bucket for 50 people. How could we use it? How could we empty it? Besides, it would have been impossible to get to it," says Gronowski. "There was no food, no drink. There were no seats so we either sat or lay down on the floor. I was in the rear right corner of the car, with my mother. It was very dark. There was a pale gleam coming from a vent in the roof but it was stifling and there was no water to be had." Soon after leaving Mechelen, the 20th convoy was attacked by three young members of the Belgian Resistance armed with one pistol, red paper and a lantern. They made a red light, a sign for danger ahead, forcing the train driver to brake sharply. This was the first and only time during World War II that any Nazi transport carrying Jewish deportees was stopped.    Robert Maistriau, one of the resistance members, recalled that terrifying moment later in his memoirs.  "The brakes made a hellish noise and at first I was petrified. But then I gave myself a jolt on the basis that if you have started something you should go through with it. I held my torch in my left hand and with my right, I had to busy myself with the pliers. I was very excited and it took far too long until I had cut through the wire that secured the bolts of the sliding door. I shone my torch into the carriage and pale and frightened faces stared back at me. I shouted Sortez Sortez! and then Schnell Schnell flehen Sie! Quick, Quick, get out of here!"  After a brief shooting battle between the German train guards and the three Resistance members, the train started again.  Some had escaped from the opened wagon and the mood among the remaining deportees had changed. Those who had dreamed of escape suddenly become more determined and more desperate. An hour later, men in Simon's wagon succeeded in breaking open the door. Cool air flowed into the stifling, crowded carriage. Chana Gronowski gave her son a 100-franc note which he rolled and slid into his sock, then she pushed towards the door.  Simon was too small to reach the footrail beneath the door by himself, so his mother lowered him down by his shoulders. "My mother held me by my shirt and my shoulders. But at first, I did not dare to jump because the train was going too fast for me," he says. "I saw the trees go by and the train was getting faster. The air was crisp and cool and the noise was deafening. I remember feeling surprised that it could go so fast with 35 cars being towed. But then at a certain moment, I felt the train slow down. I told my mother: 'Now I can jump.' She let me go and I jumped off. First I stood there frozen, I could see the train moving slowly forward - it was this large black mass in the dark, spewing steam."But the train slowed to a stop for a second time that night and the German guards began shooting again, this time in Simon's direction. "I wanted to go back to my mother but the Germans were coming down the track towards me. I didn't decide what to do, it was a reflex. I tumbled down a small slope and just started running for the trees."  Simon walked and ran all night, through woods and over fields.  "I was used to the woods because I'd been in the cub scouts. I hummed In the Mood to calm myself, which was a song my sister used to play on the piano," he says. Simon wanted to get to Brussels and his father, Leon. Simon knew he risked arrest but, by dawn, he knew that he would need help. With torn, muddy clothes, he knocked on a village door and told the woman who answered that he had been playing with friends and had got lost. At the time, Belgians who failed to turn in Jews to the Gestapo would be shot and the woman took Simon to the local police officer.  For the first time, Simon was terrified. "The sight of this man in his uniform with his gun in his belt, terrorised me. I was sure he would bring me back to the Germans. He asked me what had happened and I kept telling him that I had got lost and I was playing with children and that now, I had to go to Brussels."  The policeman, Jan Aerts had guessed Simon came from the Auschwitz convoy. The bodies of three escapees were lying in the police station at that very moment. However, Aerts had no intention of betraying Simon. His wife fed him and gave him clean clothes. Aerts arranged for Simon to catch a train back to Brussels where he arrived that evening. Simon was reunited that night with his father, a shopkeeper, although they spent the remaining years of the war hidden separately by Catholic families. Chana Gronowski was sent to the gas chambers on arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Simon's sister Ita, 18, arrived in Auschwitz on the next but one convoy, and also died there. In all, 25,483 Jews and 351 Roma were deported from Kazerne Dossin. Of the 233 people who attempted to escape from the 20th convoy with Simon Gronowski, 26 were shot that night, 89 were recaptured and 118 got away.  The 20th convoy was unique in that there was an attempt to rescue the deportees. It was unique in being the only convoy from which there was what could be called a mass breakout. According to some sources, it was also unique in that although 70% of the women and girls were killed in the gas chambers immediately on arrival, the remaining women were sent to Block X of Birkenau for medical experimentation.  As for the three young Belgian Resistance members who stopped the train, Youra Livschitz was captured later and executed. Jean Franklemon was arrested soon after and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was freed in May 1945. He died in 1977. Robert Maistriau was arrested in March 1944. He was liberated from Bergen-Belsen in 1945 and lived until 2008. John Aerts was declared a "Righteous Gentile" by the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem. Leon Gronowski died within months of the end of the war. Simon Gronowski paid his way through university. He chose to be a lawyer because, he says, the Nazis had tried to dispossess and demean him, and he saw the law as the best way of countering that. Today he lives in Brussels and still practises law. He has children and grandchildren. He plays jazz. For more than 50 years he hardly spoke about his past but Maxime Steinberg, a Belgian historian and specialist in the persecution of Jews in Belgium, persuaded him to write a book. He now also speaks regularly in schools. "I speak about what happened to me so that you will protect freedom in your country," he explains to children. "I want you to know that the most important words are 'peace' and 'friendship'. I speak to bear witness, to combat anti-Semitism, all forms of discrimination and Holocaust denial; to honour the dead and the heroes who saved my life - Jan Aerts, who risked certain death in protecting me, the Catholic families who hid me during the war, and my mother, the first of my heroes."  Simon Gronowski's story, and those of many others, is also told in the new Kazerne Dossin Museum and Documentation Centre of the Holocaust and Human Rights, which opened in December. Built facing the actual transit centre - now an apartment block - the museum cost 25 million euros and was financed by the Flemish government. Its archives include 1,200 photos of the people on the 20th convoy.

^ This is an interesting story since most people do not know about the attack on the Auschwitz train or much about the Belgian Resistance. ^


North Caucasus Trouble

From the MT:
"North Caucasus a Breeding Ground for Terror"

Militants from Chechnya and other restive regions in the volatile North Caucasus have targeted Moscow and other areas with bombings and hostage-takings, but the allegations of involvement in the Boston Marathon explosions would mark the first time they had conducted a terror attack in the U.S. The conflict in Chechnya began in 1994 as a separatist war, but quickly morphed into an Islamic insurgency whose adepts vow to carve out an independent Islamic state in the Caucasus. Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya in 1996 after the first Chechen war, leaving it de-facto independent and largely lawless, but then rolled back three years later following apartment building explosions in Moscow and other cities blamed on the rebels. Chechnya has stabilized under the steely grip of Kremlin-backed local strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel whose forces were accused of massive rights abuses. But the Islamic insurgency has spread to neighboring provinces, with Dagestan, sandwiched between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, becoming the epicenter of violence with militants launching daily attacks against police and other authorities. Militants from Chechnya and neighboring provinces have launched a long series of terror attacks in Russia, including a 2002 hostage-taking raid in Moscow's theater, in which 129 hostages died, a 2004 hostage-taking in a school in the southern city of Beslan that killed more than 330 people, and numerous bombings in Moscow and other cities. In recent years, however, militants in Chechnya, Dagestan and other neighboring provinces have largely refrained from attacks outside the Caucasus. The allegations of the Caucasus men's role in the Boston's explosions would reinforce long-held claims by Russian officials that insurgents in the Caucasus have been linked to al-Qaida.

^ I included this because most people (especially in the West) have no idea about the region and ordinary people and the media are making up stories since the Boston bombings. In the US white people are called: "Caucasian" but if you said that in Russia -  which I have done - they would animatedly debate you and be insulted. A Caucasian to a Russian is from the Caucasus Mountains (makes sense.) I don't know how the US changed it to mean "white." I was in Russia when Beslan happened and everything (media, the Internet, etc) was targeted against all Chechens. I didn't realize any of this blatant censorship until I left Russia a few months later and did some research on non-Russian sites. ^


Border Fees

From Yahoo Canada:
"Americans eyeing ‘crossing fee’ for passenger vehicles at Canada-U.S. land borders"

Would you still make your weekly or monthly shopping trip to the United States if you had to pay an additional fee each time you crossed a land border by car or bus? It appears that such a 'crossing fee' could soon be a reality. In the face of daunting budget cuts, that is one of the ideas up for consideration by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as explained in their fiscal 2014 budget proposal. Canadians going to America by air or sea already pay such a fee: Each time this type of traveler enters the United States they pay a $5.50 'customs fee', which is often hidden into the cost of airline tickets. Officials are quick to note that, at this point, Homeland Security is just studying the idea as a means to address a "staffing gap" at land borders. The actual logistics of it — where to charge and how to collect — might just become to much of a challenge to proceed. The idea is also garnering opposition from some American politicians. New York State Congressman Brian Higgins says the fee would hurt the U.S. economy. "The economic integration of Western New York and Southern Ontario will define our region economically over the coming decades. Buffalo is able to maintain two major league sports teams because of the growing ticket-buying base of Greater Toronto. This is also the reason why we have low-cost air carriers, thriving shopping malls and stable cultural institutions," he wrote in a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security on Thursday. "Given this, I was shocked to see that the Fiscal Year 2014 budget request proposed a study for a new toll on all passengers and pedestrians crossing the border from Canada into the United States. Putting up economic barriers to regional commerce is the absolute last thing we should be doing to grow the Western New York economy."

Canada-US cross border statistics:
- The 4,000 mile border between the United States and Canada has 128 ports of entry.
- According to Statistics Canada, same-day car trips by Canadians to the United States increased 0.7 per cent to 2.8 million trips in February 2013.
- According to Statistics Canada, one or more night car trips by Canadians to the United States rose to 1.2 million in February 2013.
- According to the Globe and Mail, a 2007 Bank of Montreal study suggests that Canadian retailers lose more than $20 billion a year because of Canadians shopping in the U.S..

^ It would be pretty dumb to start charging at the US/Canadian border. Canadians come to the US and spend their money (already) on items that they then bring back to Canada. If the US wants to get some money they should charge a fee at the US/Mexican border as most Mexicans come to the US to make money and then bring that money back to Mexico. Of course the US would have to get the fee from swimmers. ^