Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sensitive Removals

From Yahoo:
"Army removes 588 troops from sensitive jobs"

The Army removed 588 soldiers from sensitive jobs such as sexual assault counselors and recruiters after finding they had committed infractions such as sexual assault, child abuse and drunken driving, officials said Wednesday. The move resulted from orders by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last year that all the services review the qualifications of people holding those jobs as part of an effort to stem a rising number of sexual assaults in the military. The Army said it reviewed the qualifications and records of 20,000 soldiers and found 588 unsuitable for their jobs as recruiters, drill sergeants, training school instructors and staff of sexual assault prevention and response programs. The Army said in a statement that 79 soldiers are leaving the service and "others could face further actions from their commands." The statement did not say whether the 79 are leaving voluntarily. Lt. Col. Alayne Conway, an Army spokeswoman, said examples of soldier infractions found in the review included sexual assault, child abuse and drunken driving. It was unclear whether those had happened during their military service or before. "We will continue working to better ensure we select the very best people for these posts, and that the chain of command knows what is expected of them, and how important this work is to the Army," Col. David Patterson, another Army spokesman, said in a statement. The Navy looked at some 11,000 employees and found five unqualified. The Air Force said that of about 2,500 sexual assault victim advocates and assault response coordinators, two advocates were removed from their jobs because of problems with their backgrounds. The Marine Corps did not respond to requests for information about their reviews, but USA Today, which first reported the results of the reviews, said the Marines found no one to disqualify.  It was unclear why the other service branches reported so few problems, but Pentagon officials said one likely reason was that the Army did a more stringent review, going beyond what Hagel had ordered. It scrutinized not only its recruiting and sex assault response and prevention staffs, but also people in other jobs it calls "positions of trust," such as the drill sergeants and other training instructors. It also scoured their records for a broader range of potentially problematic behaviors, officials said. Hagel in May ordered the military to recertify all 25,000 people involved in programs designed to prevent and respond to sexual assault and to review the qualifications of some 19,000 recruiters. He and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at a Pentagon news conference one day after all of the military's highest uniformed and civilian leadership were summoned to the White House to discuss the sexual assault problem with President Barack Obama, who has expressed impatience with the Pentagon's failure to solve it. "I am concerned that this department may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime — and the perception that there is tolerance of it — could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission, and to recruit and retain good people," Hagel wrote in his May order to the services. The issue of sexual assaults has gripped the military in the last year after a series of high-profile cases from its academy students to generals. Outrage among lawmakers has produced new ideas for tightening the way sexual-assault cases are handled in the military justice system. Meanwhile, the department reported at a congressional hearing Wednesday that preliminary figures show the number of reported sexual assaults across the military shot up by some 60 percent this year — to 5,400, or three times that of 2004. Defense officials have said the rise suggests victims are becoming more willing to come forward after a tumultuous year of scandals that shined a spotlight on the crimes and put pressure on the military to take a number of aggressive steps.

^ It only makes sense to have soldiers that haven't committed a crime to be the sole people with access to sensitive information. It doesn't matter if these transgressions happened before or during military service. Doing the deed shows the true character of that person. I only hope all the branches do this and keep up doing this in years to come. ^

Smoking EU

From the BBC:
"Tough EU smoking rules approved"

Anti-smoking legislation is to be introduced across the European Union in an attempt to cut the number of smokers by 2.4 million.  The rules, voted in by the European Parliament, mean picture health warnings will have to dominate the front and back of all packaging. There will also be a ban on flavoured, such as menthol, cigarettes. Pro-smoking groups have criticised a "nanny state mentality", but cancer charities have backed the measures. An estimated 700,000 premature deaths are caused by smoking across the EU each year.
The EU Tobacco Products Directive rules include:
  • picture warnings must cover 65% of the front and back of every packet of cigarettes, with additional warnings on the top of the pack
  • a ban on "lipstick-style" packs aimed at women - all packs must have at least 20 cigarettes to leave room for health warnings
  • roll-your-own tobacco packs to have similar picture warnings
  • a ban on promotional elements, such saying "this product is free of additives" or is less harmful than other brands
  • a ban on flavoured cigarettes, such as menthol, fruit and vanilla
  • a maximum nicotine-concentration level for e-cigarettes.
  • EU-wide tracking of cigarettes to combat illegal trade
Ministers are expected to endorse the rules in March, to come into force in May 2014. Member states will have two years to introduce the legislation. The European Commission says the new rules will "deter young people from experimenting with, and becoming addicted to, tobacco" and should lead to a 2% drop in the amount smoked over the next five years.  EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said: "Today is a great day for EU health policy.  "The new rules will help to reduce the number of people who start smoking in the EU.  "These measures put an end to products which entice children and teenagers into starting to smoke in the European Union." Simon Clark, the director of the pro-smoking campaign group Forest, said banning menthol cigarettes was a ban on consumer choice that "will do little" to deter children from smoking. He also questioned the need for plain packaging legislation to remove any branding from packs, which is being considered in some EU countries, including the UK.  "If health warnings are going to be even more prominent, dominating both sides of the pack, why on Earth do we need plain packaging?" he asked.

^ I don't see these new rules having any effect on the number of smokers in the EU - especially in those Eastern European countries that are part of the EU where smoking is a way of life. It does seem that the EU tries to "tackle" these little issues rather than focusing on the major issues (like budget concerns, immigration, human rights, corruption, etc.) ^

More Support

From Yahoo:
"Majority of Americans now support gay marriage, survey finds"

Support for gay marriage has surged in the United States in the decade since it first became legal in Massachusetts, with just over half of Americans now supporting the idea, according to a survey released on Wednesday.  The survey on attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people comes as U.S. lawmakers and courts are increasingly allowing same-sex couples to wed.
Some 53 percent of the 4,509 Americans surveyed by the Public Religion Research Institute said they supported gay marriage, up from 32 percent in 2003, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize it. PRRI Chief Executive Robert Jones said the poll joined a raft of other surveys showing that a majority of Americans back gay marriage. The decade-long uptrend marks "a fairly remarkable shift" in attitude, he told a conference call. "As public opinion goes, we really rarely see this kind of movement on any issue over a decade's time," Jones said. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage, with bans overturned in several states after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that legally married same-sex couples were eligible for federal benefits. Fewer Americans who describe themselves as religious oppose same-sex marriages, the survey found. Negative church teachings or treatment of gay couples was cited by 31 percent of millennials, or people 18 to 33, as a major factor in leaving their childhood religion. Jews were most likely to support gay marriage, with 83 percent saying they did so, followed by 58 percent of white Roman Catholics and 56 percent of Hispanic Catholics. Among Hispanic Protestants, 46 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry and 49 percent oppose it. By contrast, 59 percent of black Protestants and 69 percent of white evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage. Nearly three-quarters, or 73 percent, of religiously unaffiliated Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. The survey also underscored misconceptions about gay rights. Only 15 percent of Americans correctly said that it is legal to refuse to hire someone because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Those polled also overestimate the size of the LGBT population, with a median estimate of 20 percent. Just 14 percent of Americans accurately say that it was 5 percent or less. Among the U.S. regions, majorities in the Northeast, West and Midwest favor letting gay and lesbian couples marry. Southerners are split, with 48 percent opposing it and 48 percent favoring it.
In an effort to kick-start same-sex marriage in the South, advocacy group Freedom to Marry launched a $1 million campaign on Monday to build support for it in the region. None of the 17 U.S. states that recognize gay marriage are located in the Southeast, where several states still have bans on the practice in their state constitutions. Since mid-December, federal judges have ruled bans on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia unconstitutional. Those decisions have been stayed pending appeals. Court challenges of same-sex marriage bans are pending in several other states. Thirty-three states ban same-sex couples from marrying.

^ You don't need a poll to tell you that the swift of change with respect to gay rights has been more accepted in recent years. This is only an issue of homosexual civil rights and nothing else. I see more states following suit and allowing gay marriage and equal rights (whether they do so willingly or not.) ^

Deposed In Russia

From MT:
"Yanukovych Request for Protection in Russia Granted, Official Says"

Russian authorities have granted a request from ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for protection on Russian territory, an unidentified government official said Thursday. News agency Interfax cited a statement from Yanukovych, in which the deposed president said that he and those close to him had received death threats and asked Russia to ensure his “safety from the activities of extremists.” A “source in the power structures of the Russian federation” later told Interfax that Russia had accepted Yanukovych's request. Russian news outlet RBK earlier reported that Yanukovych stayed at the Hotel Ukraina in central Moscow before moving to a Kremlin sanatorium outside Moscow. The hotel issued an official denial of the report on Thursday. The whereabouts of Yanukovych, who is on an international wanted list, have been largely unknown since he fled Kiev over the weekend amid rising violence between anti-government protesters and police. News reports said that he had tried to leave the country on a flight from Donetsk on Saturday, only to be denied by border guards. Yanukovych's statement said he still considers himself president of Ukraine and that recent decisions made by the Ukrainian parliament since his departure were not legitimate, adding that the agreement between his administration and opposition leaders on Feb. 21 had gone unfulfilled.
He urged a resolution to the turmoil in the country based on the previous agreement and said, “now it becomes visible, that the people in south-east Ukraine and Crimea do not accept anarchy and lawlessness in the country, when the leaders of ministries are elected by the crowd in a square.”
The acting Ukrainian government has expressed fears of separatism in eastern parts of the country since Yanukovych fled Kiev and was impeached by the country's parliament. Armed men believed to be part of a pro-Russia group took control of Crimean government buildings on Wednesday night.
The ousted president ordered the armed forces of Ukraine not to interfere in political events and added that any order to use the country's military would be a crime.

^ This is not surprising. He has always been more pro-Russia than pro-Ukraine. I read someplace that he is going to give a press conference tomorrow. No matter what he says his creditability as President of the Ukraine is long gone and no matter which direction the Ukraine takes he will never be as powerful as he once was. ^

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

World Driving

From Yahoo:
"10 most dangerous (and safest) countries for driving"

There are lots ways to die. There are also lots of people on Planet Earth tracking when and how people die. Two of those people -- Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle -- have compiled much of that data to show us where folks are most prone to die on the road. The study is called Mortality from Road Crashes in 193 Countries: A Comparison with Other Leading Causes of Death (PDF). To compile their report, Sivak and Schoettle, who head up the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, pored over fatality statistics published by the World Health Organization in 2008. Though the two were keenly interested in traffic-related deaths, they also took note of fatalities from three other causes: heart disease, malignant neoplasms (shorthand: cancer), and cerebrovascular disease (shorthand: strokes). Then, they mapped that data, calculating the highest and lowest fatality rates associated with each illness, the fatality rates associated with auto accidents, and how the former and latter overlapped The good news is that, on average, strokes, heart disease, and cancer are much bigger threats to human beings than car accidents. The bad news is that in some countries, that's not entirely true. In Namibia, for example, you're 53 percent more likely to die in automobile collision than from cancer. And in Qatar, you're more than five times as likely to die in a car accident than from a stroke. You've been warned.

Here are the deadliest countries with automobile accidents, along with the number of fatalities per 100,000 residents. Note that there's only one overlapping country, Malawi. ("Congo" refers to the Republic of the Congo, not the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is a completely separate country.)

1. Namibia (45)
2. Thailand (44)
3. Iran (38)
4. Sudan (36)
5. Swaziland (36)
6. Venezuela (35)
7. Congo (34)
8. Malawi (32)
9. Dominican Republic (32)
10. Iraq (32)

And the lowest fatality rates from auto accidents. Again, there's little overlap, other than Maldives:

184. Switzerland (5)
185. Netherlands (4)
186. Antigua and Barbuda (4)
187. Tonga (4)
188. Israel (4)
189. Marshall Islands (4)
190. Fiji (4)
191. Malta (3)
192. Tajikistan (3)
193. Maldives (2)

For reference, the U.S. had 817 deaths per 100,000 residents from all four causes, which is slightly better than the average global fatality rate of 844.  In terms of auto fatalities, the U.S. had 14 deaths per 100,000, placing it above the global average of 18. The major takeaway is that auto fatalities constitute a mere sliver of the world's deaths: "For the world, fatalities from road crashes represented 2.1% of fatalities from all causes.... The highest percentage by country (15.9% in the United Arab Emirates) was 53 times the lowest percentage (0.3% in the Marshall Islands)."  The report leaves out a few countries that might've made the "ten safest" lists, but weren't included -- countries like Greenland and Vatican City. It also overlooks some troubled areas that could've ended up on the bottom, like South Sudan and Palestine. Just so you know.
^ The bad driving countries didn't surprise me that much while some of the good driving countries did (ie Tajikistan, Fiji, Tonga and the Maldives.) ^

70th Years: Deportations

From the BBC:
"Ingush elders recall the horror of deportation"

Seventy years ago, in February 1944, nearly half a million Chechen and Ingush people were herded into cattle trucks and forced into exile in remote parts of the Soviet Union. It's estimated that more than a third of them died before they were allowed back 13 years later.  "At dawn, five soldiers entered each house and took all the men away - anyone over the age of 14. I was 10 years old. Then they said they would deport all of us," says Isa Khashiyev.  "We had 10 people in our family - mum and dad, grandmother and seven children. I was the eldest, and my youngest sister was three months old. "The soldier who was assigned to deport us was very kind. He loaded our truck with five sacks of grain and helped us pack our bedding and other belongings. It was thanks to him that we survived," he says. The truck took them to the nearest railway station in Ingushetia where they were put in a cattle wagon with 10 other families.  Khashiyev's family was sent on a 15-day journey to Kazakhstan. "We had no water and no food. The weak were suffering from hunger, and those who were stronger would get off the train and buy some food. Some people died on the way - no-one in our carriage, but in the next carriage I saw them taking out two corpses." It was cold and dark when they arrived in Kokchetav, in the plains of northern Kazakhstan. "We went off on a sledge, I fell off at one point, but they stopped the sledge and my mum ran back to find me," says Khashiyev.
"Our baby sister died that night. My dad was looking for a place to bury her - he found a suitable place, dug the grave and buried her… she must have frozen to death." The exiles were housed by local families, not all of whom were happy with the situation. "The landlady didn't want to let us in - she had heard that we were cannibals or something like that," he says. "Eventually she agreed to take us in, but she wouldn't speak to us."  Khashiyev is one of nearly 100,000 Ingush who were deported - nearly 400,000 Chechens were exiled at the same time. Both had a long history of resistance to outside authority. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin suspected them of collaborating with German forces as they pushed south into the Caucasus in 1942 and 1943.  Other nationalities deported en masse included the Balkars and Karachai, also from the North Caucasus, the Kalmyks, whose territory borders the Caspian Sea, the Crimean Tatars and, from the South Caucasus, the Meskhetian Turks.
Exiles who survived the difficult journey east had to abide by strict regulations curbing their movement. They had to report to the authorities regularly and if they broke the rules they risked lengthy prison sentences in labour camps where conditions were even worse.  The NKVD or secret police were the eyes and ears of the government and kept a close eye on the deportees. But some NKVD officers - like Alaudin Shadiyev, who had fought against the Nazis, but was deported along with all his compatriots - found this very tough.  "I was upset, very upset. I used to cry every night. And I did my best to help my people, and also to help the secret police," he says.   Shadiyev's job was to check up on the exiles but he was horrified by the conditions he found at one deserted orphanage.
"I was asking, 'Where are all the children?' And someone waved in the direction of the forest… and under the trees I saw lots of babies lying on straw. Then a teenage girl came up to me, and more girls joined her, they were all about 12 years old, or younger.  "The eldest pointed to the babies lying around, some on rags, some on the straw, and they were stretching their arms towards me… they were asking for help." The girls had to forage in the fields and orchards or beg for food. "All these children were dying in silence. It was too hard for me to witness this. Even today I can hardly speak about this," says Shadiyev.   The deportations were a taboo subject under Stalin - the Soviet leader died in 1953 and the exiles were not allowed to return home until 1957. Khashiyev is now 80 and lives back in his native village where he is one of the elders. Shadiyev is 94 and lives near Nazran, the capital of Ingushetia.

^ Even though these deportations are still a taboo subject in modern-day Russia they are essential to remember. ^

Full Pull-Out?

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Obama orders DOD to plan for full withdrawal from Afghanistan"

President Barack Obama has ordered the Defense Department to begin planning for a full U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan if a key security agreement between the two countries is not signed, the White House announced Tuesday. In a phone call to Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Obama said that United States was still willing to negotiate a limited U.S. troop presence to train Afghan security forces and hunt al-Qaida. That will only happen, however, if Afghanistan signs a bilateral security agreement guaranteeing U.S. troops immunity from the Afghan legal system. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that the DOD would “move ahead with additional contingency planning to ensure adequate plans are in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014.” While the “zero option” has been discussed by Obama administration officials and military leaders, this is the first time the DOD has formally been told to develop a plan, and is something of an escalation in the war of words with Karzai. The U.S. has struggled to get a commitment from Karzai on any international agreements that would guarantee immunity for U.S. troops in Afghan courts for actions taken in pursuit of mission goals. After a council of Afghan elders and local leaders approved such an agreement last November, Karzai shocked the international community by refusing to sign it. Now is the right time to begin planning for a potential full withdrawal, Hagel said. “This is a prudent step given that President Karzai has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the [BSA], which would provide DOD personnel with critical protections and authorities after 2014,” Hagel said in a statement Tuesday. “I appreciate the efforts of [Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of the International Security Assistance Force] and our military leaders to provide flexibility to the President as we work to determine the future of our presence in Afghanistan. The White House put out a statement at roughly the same time, recapping the call between President Obama and Karzai, which covered preparations for Afghanistan’s coming elections, and peace and reconciliation efforts, in addition to the Bilateral Security Agreement. “President Obama told President Karzai that because he has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the BSA, the United States is moving forward with additional contingency planning,” the statement read. “[T]he longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.” Hagel was scheduled to talk Tuesday with airmen and soldiers at two bases in Virginia before flying to Brussels for the 2014 NATO Ministerial, which will “look ahead to the Alliance’s planned new mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces after 2014.”
^ It wouldn't surprise me if the US completely leaves Afghanistan since that's what Obama did in Iraq. Unlike, in Iraq (where the US was the only country left at the end) there are dozens of other countries with troops in Afghanistan who plan on keeping on small groups to help train the Afghanis. ^

Sorry Riot

From MT:
"Riot Police in Lviv Beg People's Forgiveness on Bended Knee"

About 100 riot police officers in Lviv in western Ukraine got down on their knees on stage on Monday and asked the city's residents to forgive them for their role in the attempts to suppress recent anti-government protests. The riot police, or Berkut, promised to take the side of the people in future and assured the crowd that they weren't involved in the violence in Kiev. Many of the protesters were not satisfied, however, shouting "shame!" and throwing small objects at them, UNIAN reported Tuesday. A priest who was also on stage appealed for calm and activists helped to hold the crowd back. There is no shortage of ill-feeling between the riot police and members of the street protest movement in Ukraine.  Protesters have accused the Berkut of using cruel tactics to clamp down on Euromaidan protesters, including the use live rounds and the humiliation of detainees. In one such instance, riot police in Kiev were filmed making an example of protester Mikhailo Gavrilyuk, forcing him to pose for photographs while standing naked in the cold. For its part, the Berkut said that its officers were only issued gas canisters, stun grenades and rubber bullets and had acted within the law. They also said that a number of their officers were killed in the riots as a result of knife wounds and gunshots. On Thursday, during one of the most bloody days of fighting, former Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko said that he had authorized law enforcement officials to use live rounds after they had come under fire.  With a new Ukrainian government set to be formed this week, it is not yet clear what the future holds for the Berkut, though many officers fear severe reprimands. Settling in Russia could become an option. Sergei Mironov, leader of the A Just Russia Party, on Tuesday proposed employing Berkut officers in Russia's Interior Ministry and giving them Russian citizenship after six months of service, RIA Novosti reported. Mironov also backed a suggestion put forward earlier by Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who said that the process of becoming a Russian citizenship should be made easier for all Ukrainians, not just the riot police.  Furthermore, the Governor of the Russian region of Astrakhan, Alexander Zhilkin, has said that he is ready to let riot police and their families live there.

^ The Ukrainians should not group all of the riot police as the bad guys. There are those that did do very bad things by wounding and/or killing innocent people and they should be punished. The rest should be allowed to take part in the "new Ukraine." ^

Monday, February 24, 2014

90 Day Fiance (Con't)

These show ended last night. I have to say that it didn't surprise me that all the couples eventually got married. Even those foreign fiancees that didn't love or want to get married would do so knowing that they were being tapped and that INS/ICE (or whatever Immigration is called nowadays) would see this and if it looked like things were "kosher" then they would be denied their change of immigrant status. Two of the couples (from Russia and the Philippines) didn't seem, to me, to be a good match  - for various reasons - while the other two couples (from Brazil and Colombia) did. I still say that the tag-line that these couples "have" to get married within 90 days is not true. These couples have 90 days to get married WITHIN the US and then if not they have to leave the country - the non-US citizens that is. No one (ie the US State Department, INS, etc) is forcing anyone to get married. They just have a time-limit to do so in this country. Also the K- 1 Visa is not intended to have people who don't know each other to get to know one another. It is solely meant for the foreign citizen to come and get married. The couple are expected to know each other and have to prove their ties before the visa is issued. This was one of those shows that could be considered "fluff." There wasn't much content, but you still wanted to watch  - just in case there was later on. I heard they are making a 2nd season and will probably watch that one too (having a DVR that tapes 7 shows at once makes doing things like this possible - back when I could only tape 2 shows at a time I would have had to be more selective.)

Vet Bill

From USA Today:
"Massive veterans bill heading toward Senate vote"

What has been characterized as the most sweeping veterans legislation in decades could reach the Senate floor for a vote as early as Tuesday. The legislation authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who chairs the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, contains 143 provisions and would cost more than $30 billion. With a long title — the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 — the bill, among other things, includes: restoring cost-of-living increases for military retiree pensions; expanding Department of Veterans Affairs health care, allowing the VA to acquire 27 new medical facilities and paying for reproductive services for 2,300 troops wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It would expand compensation for family caregivers of disabled veterans — something now provided for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan — to families of veterans of all wars. Nearly all veteran organizations support the bill. But it is not without controversy, variously described as landmark legislation necessary to serve every generation of America's 22 million veterans; and as a vehicle for politically embarrassing Republicans who may choose to vote against it because of how it's funded. Some $21 billion of the bill's cost comes from roughly $1 trillion the federal government would be allowed by law to spend fighting terrorism over the next 10 years. "I would argue that if we put aside money for war, we are also putting aside money for those people hurt in those wars," Sanders says. "That's a very consistent and reasonable argument." According to the Congressional Budget Office, the $1 trillion — known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding — is a projection based solely on what was spent in 2014, when troops are still fighting in Afghanistan. Republicans argue that President Obama intends to withdraw troops from Afghanistan at the end of this year and OCO funding will drop precipitously. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today announced cuts to the military that include reducing the Army to its smallest size since before World War II. With tight Senate races in the fall, the bill that Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, is moving to the floor possibly as soon as Tuesday could force Republicans into the difficult political position of voting against veteran issues. Sanders did not put his bill up for a vote within his committee.

^ I agree with these provisions aimed at helping veterans and their families from ALL wars. I hope that this passes and gets implemented quickly as former soldiers, who fought for their country, deserve these benefits. ^

Ukrainian Press

From the BBC:
"Ukraine crisis: Press mulls next EU and Russian moves"

The Ukrainian press appears shocked at the remarkable defeat of the vanished ex-President Viktor Yanukovych. Even some papers that formerly supported him now agree that he is finished.
European dailies worry about Ukraine's instability causing a financial crisis which the EU would have an obligation to fix. And in Russia, papers say the defeat of Yanukovych is a reality check for President Putin, who they see as outmanoeuvred. But they point toward cultural similarities in Ukraine and Russia as a basis for building a new relationship.  Elements of the Ukrainian press are lining up to demonise the ousted president.  At least one paper has changed its editorial line. Segodnya tabloid, which used to support President Yanukovych, now calls him "the most useless person on earth".  "Viktor Yanukovych has been toppled. It has been the wildest dream of the protesters," the paper says. "He made lots of mistakes. He cheated both his voters and opponents, Russia, Europe, oligarchs and the working class. Cheated trust is the deadliest sin," it says. Kommersant Ukraine, the Ukrainian edition of Russian business daily, marvels that over the weekend, "Viktor Yanukovych took a journey from the legitimate president recognised by the international community to an outcast deprived of support from his political party and closest ally."
Bernardo Valli in Italy's La Repubblica expresses trepidation at the instability in Ukraine. "The idea of secession in Ukraine is not only embarrassing but frightening", he writes. "In the East and in the West; it would be a wide-open crater in the heart of Europe."  Stefan Kornelius writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the EU is now facing an "obligation" towards Ukraine. "It was the EU's promise of freedom which led people in Ukraine to hope for a better future. The EU stands for the rule of law, for life without corruption and the rule of oligarchs. On the Maidan, the EU has inherited a huge development project." A commentator in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung agrees, saying that "first and foremost there is an urgent need for immediate economic and financial aid."  "The EU must not again look on as the country becomes the helpless subject of Russian scheming and the see-saw policies of its own kleptomaniac leadership," commentator Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger writes.
French commentator Francois Sergent says the crisis in Ukraine is not over. "We can only be pleased about the departure of President Yanukovych, a brutal and corrupt autocrat. But Ukraine remains a failed state, which lacks unity and an identity," he says in Liberation. An editorial by Francois Ernenwein in La Croix says, "Ukraine's future remains to be invented". He says that the violence of the repression gave weight to the most hard-line faction in the opposition camp, and there is "nothing to suggest that the ultranationalists will easily fall into line". The influential business Russian daily Kommersant warns that "the longer the period when groups of militiamen replace the police and pass their revolutionary laws lasts, the deeper the economic crisis will be and the closer the threat of a default will be". In the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, Andrey Baranov says there is no one in the current Ukrainian political landscape who is a unifying figure. He predicts a period in which those who gain power will "bite both their foes and each other" and that the most "cunning and unprincipled one will get the support of the West." Moscow will have to accept the political changes in Ukraine and adjust its policy towards the neighbouring country, Russian newspapers say.  An editorial in the business daily Vedomosti says that Moscow realised that the failure of Yanukovych and people surrounding him is largely a result of its blunders.  "The question is what conclusions the Kremlin and Russian society will draw. It is important to understand that the aspiration to play with contradictions between the regions or attempts to take eastern regions and the Crimea under the Russian protectorate would have a negative effect on the international elections and are ineffective economically."  However, Moscow could use the status of the Russian language in Russian-speaking parts of the Ukraine as a point of negotiation, Vedomosti says.  "Moscow can and should insist on Kiev following the European charter of regional languages and languages of ethnic minorities and demand that the rights of compatriots be observed."  Moskovskiy Komsomolets praises Russia's stance on the Ukrainian crisis and calls for the continuation of the similar course. In an article by Mikhail Rostovskiy headlined "Never mind that Yanukovych falls," he says "politicians of the Yanukovych type come and go, but Russia and Ukraine remain the closest neighbours" because of their common past and language. He says Russia was "outplayed" in the Ukraine, but a careful policy in future would limit its geopolitical loss.

^ I agree that the EU, the US and Russia have an obligation to help the Ukraine. None of them should use military or covert force though. I believe that the Russian language (and other minority languages) should be allowed within the country (as long as Ukrainian is still a mandatory-studied language.) What the Ukraine needs now are not threats from any side, but financial help. Russia support Gaddafi in Libya throughout the Libyan Revolution and once he was toppled and killed they switched sides quickly. They should do the same with the Ukraine now. If Russia wants good relations with the current Ukraine then they should focus on the positives of the current situation and expand on them rather than focusing on the negatives and helping create more instability. ^

Russian Rhetoric

From the BBC:
"Ukraine crisis: Russia steps up Ukraine rhetoric"

Russia has stepped up its rhetoric against Ukraine's new Western-leaning leadership as tensions rise over the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych. Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev said interim authorities in Kiev had conducted an "armed mutiny". And the Russian foreign ministry said dissenters in mainly Russian-speaking regions faced suppression. Earlier, Ukraine's interim interior minister said an arrest warrant had been issued for Mr Yanukovych.   MPs voted to remove Mr Yanukovych on Saturday. His whereabouts are unknown but he was reported to have been in the Crimean peninsula on Sunday. Russia, angered at the loss of its political ally, has already recalled its ambassador for consultation. Unrest in Ukraine began in late November when Mr Yanukovych rejected a landmark association and trade deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia. Meanwhile, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has arrived in Kiev to discuss financial and political support for Ukraine's new leaders.  Baroness Ashton began her visit by laying flowers in Independence Square to those killed in clashes between protesters and police. Mr Medvedev, quoted by Russian news agencies, suggested that Western countries that accepted Ukraine's new authorities were mistaken. "The legitimacy of a whole number of organs of power that function there raises great doubts. "Some of our foreign, Western partners think otherwise. This is some kind of aberration of perception when people call legitimate what is essentially the result of an armed mutiny." He added: "We do not understand what is going on there. There is a real threat to our interests and to the lives of our citizens." Ukraine's foreign ministry quickly responded to Mr Medvedev's concerns for Russian citizens in Ukraine, saying they were "unfounded". However, Russia's foreign ministry also issued a strongly worded statement saying a "forced change of power" was taking place in Ukraine and accused interim leaders of passing new laws "aimed at infringing the humanitarian rights of Russians and other ethnic minorities".  "A course has been set towards suppressing dissenters in various regions of Ukraine by dictatorial, and sometimes even terrorist, means," a statement said.
Who is Running the Country?
  • Olexandr Turchynov - deputy leader of the Fatherland party and a long-time opponent of Mr Yanukovych; appointed interim president
  • Arsen Avakov - also a key Fatherland MP, now interim interior minister
  • Arseniy Yatsenyuk - parliamentary leader of Fatherland and the main negotiator during Maidan protests; tipped as a possible future prime minister
  • Vitali Klitschko - boxer turned politician who was a leading figure in the Maidan; heads Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms (Udar); expected to run for presidency
  • Oleh Tyahnybok - leader of far-right Svoboda (Freedom) party; key Maidan protest leader
  • Yulia Tymoshenko - former prime minister and opponent of Mr Yanukovych; released from jail as opposition took control of parliament; has ruled out running for PM
On Sunday, Ukraine's parliament lowered the official status of the Russian language by cancelling a law brought in by Mr Yanukovych. It has set a Tuesday deadline for a new unity government to be formed. Interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Facebook that a criminal case had been opened against Mr Yanukovych and other officials over "mass murder of peaceful citizens".  The statement said Mr Yanukovych was last seen in Balaklava on the Crimean peninsula on Sunday.
It said that after dismissing most of his security detail, he had left by car for an unknown destination. The statement did not name the other figures covered by the warrant. The peninsula is an autonomous region where the majority of the population is ethnically Russian.  Crimea and some pro-Russian areas in the east have seen protests against the overthrow of Mr Yanukovych, sparking fears that Ukraine could be split apart by separatist movements.  Ukraine's health ministry says 88 people, mostly anti-Yanukovych protesters but also police, are now known to have been killed in last week's clashes. Interim Finance Minister Yuriy Kolobov has said Ukraine needs around $35bn (£21bn) in urgent foreign aid and asked for an international donors' conference to be held.  Moscow recently agreed to provide $15bn for Ukraine's struggling economy - a move seen as a reward for Mr Yanukovych's controversial decision not to sign the long-planned trade deal with the EU. But there are fears Moscow could withdraw that offer. Ukraine has state debts of some $73bn, with around $6bn to be paid this year.

^ Hopefully, Russia won't do anything stupid like they did in: East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), Afghanistan (1979-1989) and other parts of the world. They lost their puppet state in the Ukraine and rather than calling for arms they should accept the way things are and move forward because unlike those other invasions I believe the EU and possibly the US would stand-up for the Ukraine. ^

Oldest Survivor Gone

From USA Today: 
"Oldest-known Holocaust survivor dies at 110"

Alice Herz-Sommer, believed to be the oldest-known survivor of the Holocaust, died Sunday morning in London at age 110, a family member said. Herz-Sommer's devotion to the piano and to her son sustained her through two years in a Nazi prison camp, and a film about her has been nominated for best short documentary at next week's Academy Awards. She died in a hospital Sunday morning after being admitted Friday, daughter-in-law Genevieve Sommer said. "We all came to believe that she would just never die," said Frederic Bohbot, producer of the documentary The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life. ''There was no question in my mind, 'would she ever see the Oscars.'" An accomplished pianist, Herz-Sommer, her husband and her son were sent from Prague in 1943 to a concentration camp in the Czech city of Terezin — Theresienstadt in German — where inmates were allowed to stage concerts in which she frequently starred. An estimated 140,000 Jews were sent to Terezin and 33,430 died there. About 88,000 were moved on to Auschwitz and other death camps, where most of them were killed. Herz-Sommer and her son, Stephan, were among fewer than 20,000 who were freed when the notorious camp was liberated by the Soviet army in May 1945. Yet she remembered herself as "always laughing" during her time in Terezin, where the joy of making music kept them going. "These concerts, the people are sitting there, old people, desolated and ill, and they came to the concerts and this music was for them our food. Music was our food. Through making music we were kept alive," she once recalled. "When we can play it cannot be so terrible." Though she never learned where her mother died after being rounded up, and her husband died of typhus at Dachau, in her old age she expressed little bitterness. "We are all the same," she said. "Good, and bad." Herz-Sommer was born on Nov. 26, 1903, in Prague, and started learning the piano from her sister at age 5. As a girl, she met the author Franz Kafka, a friend of her brother-in-law, and delighted in the stories that he told. She also remembered Kafka saying, "In this world to bring up children: in this world?" Alice married Leopold Sommer in 1931. Their son was born in 1937, two years before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. "This was especially for Jews a very, very hard time. I didn't mind, because I enjoyed to be a mother and I was full of enthusiasm about being a mother, so I didn't mind so much," she said. Jews were allowed to shop for only half an hour in the afternoon, by which time the shops were empty. Most Jewish families were forced to leave their family apartments and were crammed into one apartment with other families, but her family was allowed to keep its home. "We were poor, and we knew that they will send us away, and we knew already in this time that it was our end," she said. In 1942, her 73-year-old mother was transported to Terezin, then a few months later to Treblinka, an extermination camp. "And I went with her of course till the last moment. This was the lowest point in my life. She was sent away. Till now I don't know where she was, till now I don't know when she died, nothing. "When I went home from bringing her to this place I remember I had to stop in the middle of the street and I listened to a voice, an inner voice: 'Now, nobody can help you, not your husband, not your little child, not the doctor.'" From then on, she took refuge in the 24 Etudes of Frederic Chopin, a dauntingly difficult monument of the repertoire. She labored at them for up to eight hours a day. She recalled an awkward conversation on the night before her departure to the concentration camp with a Nazi who lived upstairs and called to say that he would miss her playing. She remembered him saying: "'I hope you will come back. What I want to tell you is that I admire you, your playing, hours and hours, the patience and the beauty of the music.'" Other neighbors, she said, stopped by only to take whatever the family wasn't able to bring to the camp. "So the Nazi was a human, the only human. The Nazi, he thanked me," she said. The camp's artistic side was a blessing; young Stephan, then 6, was recruited to play a sparrow in an opera. "My boy was full of enthusiasm," she recalled. "I was so happy because I knew my little boy was happy there." The opera was "Brundibar," a 40-minute piece for children composed by Hans Krasa, a Czech who was also imprisoned in the camp. It was first performed in Prague but got only one other performance before he was interned. "Brundibar" became a showpiece for the camp, performed at least 55 times including once when Terezin, which had been extensively spruced up for the occasion, was inspected by a Red Cross delegation in June 1944. The opera featured in a 1944 propaganda film which shows more than 40 young performers filling the small stage during the finale. Herz-Sommer's life inspired two books: A Garden of Eden in Hell (2006) by Melissa Mueller and Reinhard Piechocki, and A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World's Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor (2012) by Caroline Stoessinger. In 1949, she left Czechoslovakia to join her twin sister Mizzi in Jerusalem. She taught at the Jerusalem Conservatory until 1986, when she moved to London. Her son, who changed his first name to Raphael after the war, made a career as a concert cellist. He died in 2001. Funeral arrangements weren't immediately available.

^ Everyday more and more Holocaust survivors are dying and soon their stories and experiences will only be legend. We need to do everything we can now to record their lives and the lives of the victims they knew before it is too late. We also need to make sure they have everything they need to live the remainder of their lives in peace and comfort. ^

Closing Games

I just watched the Closing Ceremony of the Winter Games in Sochi. I still don't understand why they were shown hours after they actually happened. Unlike, when I made two entries for the Opening Ceremonies I will only make one for the Closing as they were much shorter. I would estimate that 90% of the 2 hour show were commercials while only 10% were entertainment or ceremony. I don't blame the Russians for that (it was NBC showing it to the US.)
At the beginning of the Ceremony they tried to make fun of the Olympic symbol being messed-up in the Opening Ceremony and it wasn't funny. It simply showed that they made a mistake the first time (although ordinary Russians watching at home didn't see it as the Russian broadcaster replaced it with their practice footage.)
There was the same creepy old Russian announcer (speaking after the French and English announcers.) I don't know who he is, but he was not the best person for the job. If I didn't know Russian and couldn't understand what he was saying I would think he was calling on all the children to come into his van for some candy.
The US announcers seemed second-rate (like Matt Lauer and his crew left Sochi early.) They also had Vladimir Posner hosting with them. Posner is French/Soviet-Russian and American and lived in the USSR for most of his adult life. He talked like he had forgotten his teeth and was having trouble speaking. Also, when he was saying Russian names he didn't have an authentic Russian accent.
The Russian Olympic medal winners didn't seem to know the words of the Russian National Anthem and many were simply moving their mouths. I was in Russia when Putin showed Russians their new Anthem in 2000 (it's the same tune as the Soviet Anthem, but has different words.) A poll done around the country showed that less than 39% of Russians knew the new lyrics, but liked the tune. You would think that if you were going to be on television singing the Anthem you would learn the words.
Russian President Vladimir Putin looked tired and bored throughout the whole ceremony. Not like he looked at the Opening Ceremony.
The Parade of Nations went ok - nothing really great about a bunch of people walking out all at once. I miss the cool floor map from the Opening Ceremony.
The main part of the Ceremony was about Russian culture. They started with Marc Chagall (who wasn't even Russian - he was Jewish born in Belarus.) They then did Russian ballet which was good. The Russian literature part was decent.
The Ceremony then went to the different representatives. The Mayor of Sochi (Anatoly Pakomov) was a little too excited to be in the spotlight and couldn't stop waving. He is the man who said there were "no gay people in Sochi." I guess he never watched figure skating. The IOC President gave a typical German address with only the facts and no emotions yet what was ironic is that in his speech he talked about the "shared emotions" of the athletes from around the world. 
The Ceremony ended with a weird "mirror world" dealing with reflection and a bunch of talk about the Olympic mascots (especially the bear) and how the bear was in the 1980 Olympics in the Soviet Union which was boycotted by over 30 countries including the US.
All-in-all the Closing Ceremonies seemed to be an after-thought. While a lot of time, effort and money were put into the Opening Ceremony and you could tell the Closing Ceremony was just there. Now for the next Winter Games in South Korea in 2018.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Olympic Medal Count

From Wikipedia:
"2014 Winter Olympics medal table"

1 Russia (RUS)1311933
2 Norway (NOR)1151026
3 Canada (CAN)1010525
4 United States (USA)971228
5 Netherlands (NED)87924
6 Germany (GER)86519
7 Switzerland (SUI)63211
8 Belarus (BLR)5016
9 Austria (AUT)48517
10 France (FRA)44715
11 Poland (POL)4116
12 China (CHN)3429
13 South Korea (KOR)3328
14 Sweden (SWE)27615
15 Czech Republic (CZE)2428
16 Slovenia (SLO)2248
17 Japan (JPN)1438
18 Finland (FIN)1315
19 Great Britain (GBR)1124
20 Ukraine (UKR)1012
21 Slovakia (SVK)1001
22 Italy (ITA)0268
23 Latvia (LAT)0224
24 Australia (AUS)0213
25 Croatia (CRO)0101
26 Kazakhstan (KAZ)0011
Total (26 NOCs)999799295

^ The Winter Olympics are over (even though they won't show the Closing Ceremony on US TV until late tonight.) It is very stupid to have any kind of delay and not show it "live." The US got 28 medals (8 Gold) and Canada got 25 (9 Gold.) That's not bad. ^

New Day Dawning!

From USA Today:
"Day after Ukraine revolution, many uncertainties remain"

A day after a political earthquake in Ukraine, questions linger over the direction of the country even as it starts rebuilding its government. On Sunday, lawmakers elected a temporary leader, fired officials loyal to the previous government, and began repealing a series of deeply unpopular laws while also creating new ones. At the same time, many uncertainties remain: Where is ousted President Viktor Yanukovych? How do officials get back officials who have flown the coop (and any money they took with them)? And, most importantly, how do Ukrainians stay together? In spite of the deep divisions between the Russian-speaking east and the western region of the country, many say unity is paramount now. "We are united," said lawmaker Vyacheslav Kerilenko in parliament. "There can be no split." Even so, it is unclear who is in control in the Russian-speaking east and south, Yanukovych's base and his Party of Region's heartland. And there's concern that some want to initiate a split of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million in which half the country looks toward the West and the other toward Russia. Many expressed fear Sunday of such an outcome, as well as worry over repression by the western regions, the heartland of the opposition. In Donetsk, a former stronghold of the ousted president in the east, old women begged protesters not to destroy a statue of Lenin in the city.
 "They said 'you have won but please don't speak badly of us'," said Denis Strashny, working in the advertising industry there. In Odessa, a Russian speaking city on the Black Sea, some were dismayed at a new law passed by parliament Sunday that makes Ukrainian the sole language of the country, repealing an older law that also recognized Russia "They are afraid of what might come, that this is the beginning of an assault by Ukrainian speakers and that they will come and discriminate against Russian speakers," said Odessa native Yuri Kovalyov.  In spite of the chaos and uncertainty, analysts say the country just needs time to calm down after three months of protesting that was capped last week by violence that left more than 80 dead. "I think that the people who are talking about secession are a very small minority," said Vitaly Chernetsky, president of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies in Cambridge, Mass. "I think that there is a lot of diversity in Ukraine, the diversity is not greater than that of the United States. When you take two different viewpoints that seem to be quite extreme and in conflict with each other (and look closely), there are many shades of grey in between." Meanwhile getting the house in order, cleaning up corruption, electing new leaders and getting Ukraine back on track, both politically and economically, is at the top of parliament's to-do list. On Sunday, Ukrainian lawmakers elected an interim president, opposition leader Oleksandr Turchynov, and in the coming days, they will select a new prime minister. Released opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko already has said she doesn't want the job.  Officials have moved to set up investigations into the deaths of dozens of protesters last week and also into the "thievery" by public officials including the former president. Authorities also have approved to turn Yanukovych's mansion — fitted with millions of dollars' worth of chandeliers and other lavish items, including ostriches, paid for by taxpayers — into public property.
In spite of the relief of the past day, some protesters say they are skeptical of a good and lasting outcome, pointing to the short-lived tenure of democratic reforms introduced after Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, when Yanukovych won a rigged election and was forced out of office the first time. "This is a problem dating back to Soviet times," said documentary maker Sasha Under. "You can't change mentalities overnight."
^ What do you do after surviving the cold, snow, bombs and bullets for 3 months? After your former dictator (who shot at you and promised never to leave the country) tries to flee to Russia? - - Go to Disneyworld!!!! No, you do what the people of Kiev and the rest of the Ukraine are doing - you celebrate your victory by cleaning up, mourning the dead, bringing the corrupt officials to justice and start making your country democratic and stable. ^

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Kiev Pictures

The picture above is of Independence Square (Майдан Незалежності in Ukrainian.) I took it myself in November 2007.

The picture above is also of Independence Square in February 2014. I did not take this.

^ Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. ^

Viral Kiev

From Boing Boing:
"I am a Ukrainian: powerful, viral video about Euromaidan"

A powerful video starring an anonymous protester called "I am a Ukrainian" has been viewed some five million times. The video was directed by Ben Moses, a documentary filmmaker who is working on a film about grassroots uprising. The video's narrator details the abuses and corruption of the ruling government, and calls on viewers to demand support for the protesters' cause. The comments for the video are filled with people claiming that it was produced by the US State Department as a political move to secure an oil pipeline and keep it out of Russian control.  It's clear that the US State Department has a long history of producing media -- propaganda, even -- aimed at swaying foreign politics, but the view that the protesters are aggressors here is laughable. For one thing, there is no question that the Kremlin has directly intervened in this affair, no question that the current government is happy to pass laws criminalizing all dissent, and no question that the police and government controlled militias are the aggressor, and have perpetrated a string of escalating, horrific acts of violence, including dozens of murders.  The Ukrainian opposition is, indeed, a weird and uneasy coalition of progressives, hooligans, everyday people and career activists. Its leadership is fragmented and ineffective. But it is also riddled with provoacteurs, its most effective leaders have been imprisoned, and it has been disrupted and undermined through a dirty tricks campaign worthy of Nixon or Putin.  The events depicted in the video did happen. The fight isn't "just about freedom" -- but it is about freedom, among other things: official corruption and incompetence, and escaping from the shadow of Russian political intervention and manipulation.

^ While I couldn't put the link of the video on here you can watch it if you click on the link below. ^

100% American

From USA Today:
"U.S. flags at military bases must be 100% American-made"

An amendment to the Department of Defense's purchasing rules requires it to only buy completely American-made flags.  Here's a Stars and Stripes shocker: Prior to Friday, flags bought by the Department of Defense weren't necessarily 100% American-made. But going forward, flags purchased by the military must be wholly sourced from the U.S. — and not have any elements from overseas, according to a Department of Defense purchasing rules amendment that went into effect Friday. While the Department of Defense's major flag vendors are American companies, the flag material — such as ink and fabric — could have come from foreign markets prior to the change. "Our men (and) women in uniform should serve under American-made flags," Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., said on his Facebook page last week. He proposed the legislation requiring the flags to be 100% American-made. In that post, he also gave a nod to flag company North Bay Industries in Rohnert Park, Calif., which produces flags that are wholly American-made. "Our tax dollars should be spent on American-made flags like those at NBI," he said. The Department of Defense purchases American flags for purposes such as flying them over the Pentagon, military bases and ships, as well as to use as burial flags for military personnel killed in action. At press time, the Department of Defense didn't have an estimate on how many flags it purchases each year. But Robert Hutt, CEO at North Bay, told The Press Democrat that the Department of Defense buys about 1,000 to 2,000 annually. The new rule doesn't apply to other components related to flying or displaying flags, such as flagpoles or accessories. After Thompson posted news of the regulation on his Facebook page, it spurred much debate among users on that site. Some applauded the rule, saying that all American flags should be completely produced in the U.S. Others said flag production should be done by the most cost-effective source, even if that meant going outside of the U.S. A similar bill requiring all government-purchased flags be made in the U.S. has repeatedly failed, CBS News reported, noting that it's often less expensive to buy American flags made in China. The new military requirements extends the existing Berry Amendment to flags, reported CBS News. That amendment, which passed in 1941, bans the Department of Defense from buying food, clothing, military uniforms, fabrics, stainless steel and hand or measuring tools that are not grown or produced in the U.S., except in rare special circumstances.

^ This should have been a "no brainer" and done long ago. It also should extend to every American flag (not just on military bases.) How can you show your patriotism and love for the US with an American flag "Made in China" or elsewhere? You can't! ^

Unfit Drivers

From the Union Leader:
"Bill seeks immunity for medical providers who report those unfit to drive at any age"

Mandatory driving tests for license renewals after 75 are no longer part of a bill proposed by a lawmaker moved by the story of motorcyclists hit and killed by an 87-year-old driver.  The plan to reinstate testing was opposed by groups representing the elderly, who said it was discriminatory. Members of the House Transportation Committee agreed Thursday, amending House Bill 263 to provide immunity to medical providers who report those unfit to drive at any age. The bill’s sponsor, Tara Sad, D-Walpole, said she wants to encourage medical care providers to report those who should not be driving. Sad told the committee some doctors do report patients, but many are leery because of the potential for a lawsuit. “This might make it a little more attractive for doctors to do what is right for public safety,” Sad said. “It is very difficult to tell a parent or relative they are no longer able to drive and take their keys away.” The Department of Safety has a hearings procedure to determine if someone should continue to hold a license, which is a privilege, not a right, in New Hampshire. Consequently, a doctor’s report would not mean the automatic suspension of a person’s license. House Bill 263 does not target just elderly drivers, but anyone unfit to drive for medical or mental reasons, and has the support of the American Association of Retired Persons and the New Hampshire Medical Society. Rep. Donald LeBrun, R-Nashua, was concerned the bill did not have broad support and was inspired by only one of Sad’s constituents. Sad said when she introduced the bill, she was stopped on the street, emailed and called by people thanking her for her efforts to reinstate mandatory testing, which was repealed in 2011. Several committee members expressed concerns that a person’s confidential medical records could be exposed under the bill. Rep. Charles McMahon, R-Windham, said the records should be protected from those who want to use government as a weapon. Physician and Rep. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, said accessing medical records in an administrative hearing is concerning and suggested it be removed from the bill. Sherman also said there ought to be a requirement for a medical evaluation before a report is filed. Others were concerned about “the broad brush approach” of indemnifying any person who reports an unfit driver and suggesting either a more precise list or all “licensed medical providers.” A sub-committee will work on the bill before the full committee votes next month.

^ I know that many states require mandatory driving tests for the elderly and that is out-right age discrimination. It is one thing to make someone who never has had a license prove they are capable to drive and take all the different tests and another to force those that already passed ad have been driving for years to prove it over and over again. I believe there should be a discreet way for family members and doctors to tell the state that they believe someone is unfit to drive and that anyone who reports this should be free from any sort of penalty. The majority of bad drivers aren't senior citizens and if you only target them then you will leave many others on the road who aren't 75 or older to hurt or kill others. ^