Monday, March 31, 2014

Dual Russians

From the MT:
"Bill Proposes Fines for Those 'Hiding' Dual Citizenship"

A deputy from the Liberal Democratic Party on Monday submitted a bill to the State Duma that would introduce fines for people who fail to inform the Russian authorities that they have citizenship in another country. The legislation, drawn up by Deputy Sergei Ivanov, proposes levying fines from 1,500 rubles to 2,500 rubles ($42 to $72), Interfax reported. While the offensive is an administrative one, criminal cases would be opened against people found guilty of "hiding" a second nationality while putting forward their candidacy for elections, applying for a public position that is open only to Russian citizens, and obtaining state secrets. If the bill is approved, those found guilty could be fined up to 300,000 rubles, sentenced to 480 hours of community service or sent to jail for a maximum of three years. Under current legislation, Russians have the right to obtain citizenship of other countries without having to give up their Russian citizenship. However, at present not one state organ that deals with citizenship issues is capable of providing information about the number of Russians with dual citizenship, Ivanov said, Itar-Tass reported. President Vladimir Putin recently proposed tackling the information problem, telling a meeting of Federation Council senators, "We have every right to know who is living in Russia and what they are doing." In August, a court in Yaroslavl barred a member of the opposition RPR-Parnas party, Vladimir Kara-Murza, from running in September's regional assembly election because he had both a British and Russian passport.

^ I don't see what the big deal is with anyone having dual citizenship. I am both Canadian and American. I have to use my Canadian Passport to enter Canada (and so am solely considered Canadian there) and my American Passport to enter the US (and so am solely considered American here.) Russia requires dual citizens to only enter Russia on their Russian Passport. I don't see how it should be criminal to have another citizenship, especially considering Russia's `troubled past. I can understand a country making someone who wants to be in the public office (ie the Government) to disclose their other citizenship for security reasons, but not an ordinary person who enters Russia on their Russian Passport. ^

Crimea Conscription

From the MT:
"Crimeans Avoid Military Conscription Until 2015"

Crimeans will not be conscripted into the Russian army until 2015, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. Shoigu said that conscription cannot take place while the military conscription system on the Black Sea peninsula remains different to that of Russia, Interfax reported Monday. Crimeans could have been spared military service altogether had the region not been reunited with Russia earlier this month due to the fact that former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych scrapped mandatory conscription to Ukraine's military last year. Shoigu also said that the Russian army will conscript 154,000 people from April to July this year, a figure that was confirmed by the Kremlin press service. Conscription applies only to men aged 18 to 27. Last year, 800 fewer conscripts were recruited. Russian authorities have said they will gradually phase out conscription and switch to a professional army.
^ Since Russia has mandatory conscription and Russia now occupies part of the Ukraine (It should be noted that starting May 9, 2014 anyone who "publicly calls for action aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation"  - -ie calls for the Crimea to leave Russia - are punishable by a fine of up to 300 thousand. rubles - - $8,500 - -  or 3 years in jail. Those who make the claim via the media or on the Internet can get up to 5 years in jail) and is imposing it's rules and laws on the region it is no surprise that they would include conscription here too. Unlike, many countries that still have conscription (despite the current belief that it is no longer needed in places other than South Korea and Israel) not many Russian men actually serve in the military. I have said it before: I know of only 1 Russian man that has ever served in the military (and that was the Soviet/Russian military. He was conscripted into the Soviet military and while there the USSR collapsed and so when he left it was the Russian military.) Of course, I know more than 1 Russian so that can show you just how many pay bribes and/or get medical deferments.) I don't see Russia moving to an all-volunteer military anytime soon. The US was able to do it even while fighting the Cold War and the Vietnam War and we continue to be the world's sole Super Power. ^

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Healthcare: 6 Things

From the USA Today:
"The health law: Post-enrollment, 6 things to watch for"

Just because open enrollment for people who buy their own health insurance formally closes March 31, it doesn't mean debate over the health law will take a hiatus. After more than four years of strident rhetoric, evidence about how the law is actually working is starting to trickle in. Here are six things to watch before the next enrollment period begins in November:

1. How many enrolled, really?
Rightly or wrongly, this figure has become a yardstick by which some are measuring the law's success. But no one can give an accurate accounting yet. President Obama announced Thursday that the administration had hit the 6 million enrollment mark — the revised projection of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (which had initially forecast 7 million before the disastrous rollout of the online marketplaces last October). As of March 1, another 4.4 million consumers had been deemed eligible for Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for low-income Americans.
Final tallies of enrollees may come in mid-April, but those figures won't be the last word either. That's because not everyone who signs up for a private plan will pay their first premium, and they aren't covered unless they do. In addition, consumers who signed up through insurers or on nongovernment sites are not yet included in the count. And finally, the administration on March 26 relaxed the deadline for some people, including those who encountered computer glitches while trying to enroll.

2. Who has signed up?
Prior enrollment reports have shown the vast majority to be 35 and older with more women than men. Much attention will be focused on the coveted demographic, ages 18 to 34, who have accounted for just over a quarter of enrollees. While insurers hope for young enrollees, they can also benefit if older ones are in good health. Despite all the attention on national numbers, state and local enrollment figures are more important in any case because insurance markets are state-based, and big numbers or youthful enrollment in some places won't make up for shortfalls in others. State markets are expected to vary significantly, with some seeing bigger premium increases next year because they have older and sicker enrollees, while others with a more robust mix are more likely to see rates hold steady.

3. Has the law put a dent in the number of uninsured?
This is a key question for a law designed to reduce the nation's 48 million uninsured. It will take a while, though, to track changes. For one thing, no information has been released about how many of those who signed up were previously uninsured. Also, data so far includes those who signed up through the state and federal online markets, but not those who purchased coverage elsewhere, or who enrolled in job-based plans they had previously turned down. A McKinsey consulting firm telephone survey in February found that 27% of those purchasing coverage were previously uninsured, while a Gallup poll in March found the uninsurance rate falling. Both studies have limits, however, and cannot be considered the final word. Right now, "we have a pretty good sense the number of uninsured has gone down, but not a clue as to by how much," said Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

4. Will insurance plans, prices and rules be the same in the next enrollment period which begins Nov. 15?
No. Right now, insurers are assessing their new enrollment and associated health care costs for the first three months of the year, which will help them set rates for next year. Most of them must submit those rates for review by state regulators by spring or early summer. But don't expect to see the new rates until next fall, just before open enrollment begins. Analysts say much will depend on who enrolled this year and how healthy they turn out to be. Some predict big premium increases in some areas, while others say insurers are protected from the impact of large claims by provisions of the law that insulate them from unexpectedly high medical costs. Rule changes for next year will also factor into rate decisions. Insurers warn they may have to raise prices if they're forced to offer greater selection of doctors, hospitals and drugs in their networks.

5. How will insurance change for those of us who get it through our employers?
The answer depends on what your employer is doing now. If you work for a large company and have job-based insurance, your employer will probably keep offering it, according to most surveys.
It's trickier to say what will happen for workers at firms that don't offer coverage. That's because all employers were given a pass this year on rules that say if they don't offer health coverage to full-time workers, they could face fines. The Obama administration then extended that exemption until 2016 for firms with 50 to 99 workers. (Those with fewer than 50 workers were never included and don't face fines.) But starting next year, employers with 100 or more workers must offer insurance to at least 70% of workers — rather than the 95% originally called for under the law — or face fines.
For those with job-based coverage, the health law is also expected to accelerate existing trends, including rising deductibles and copayments for employees. Employers are making those moves to slow rising premium costs and to shift more expenses to workers. Analysts also expect to see an increase in workplace wellness programs, which often give workers incentives to participate. The health law allows employers to offer larger incentives, or up to 30% of the cost of coverage. That means workers who choose not to participate or, in some cases, to meet certain health goals, will pay more toward their coverage.

6. What impact will the rollout have on congressional elections?
Look for lots of advertising in vulnerable Democratic districts heading into the fall. If Republicans win control of the Senate (the GOP is expected to keep control of the House, if not increase its majority) that could mean health law defunding bills passed by the House will get a Senate floor vote. While Obama would surely veto them — and neither chamber is expected to have a veto-proof majority — the bills would keep anti-health law legislation front and center as both parties battle for the White House in 2016.

^ It seems that there are millions of these kinds of "helpful" points to Obamacare that seem to change by the hour. That's because no one from the President -down seems to have a clue or a care to what is going on or when it will happen. It was their goal to change health care in the US and they did that as quickly and half-hazardly as possible and now ordinary people are meant to pick-up the pieces or be fined for not understanding what even those in power do not understand. The US still has the best hospitals, doctors, research in the world but now has one of the worst health care systems. That is the main legacy Obama has given the country. Rather than fix the sinking ship he merely put some loose patches on it and added more "passengers" to the already overflowing  system. Those patches are already starting to come off and reveal the huge holes. Imagine the Titanic already partially submerged under water. Rather than putting people in the life boats the Government is adding more and more people to the side that is above water until the whole ship goes under. The health care system needed to be changed, that was a given. But what was done to change it was done too quickly without the though of the consequences, how it would be implemented or how it would affect the people who have to use it. ^


From the BBC:
"Russian Jews fear anti-Semitism amid Crimea fervor"

Members of Russia's Jewish community are voicing concern about tolerance of anti-Semitism in the media and other areas of public life, amid patriotic fervour generated by the Sochi Olympics and annexation of Crimea. One state TV presenter even accused Jews of helping to bring about the Holocaust.  In his speech on 18 March proclaiming incorporation of Crimea into Russia, President Vladimir Putin said the "coup" that ousted former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had been engineered by "neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites". "They are the ones who to a large extent continue to dictate what goes on in Ukraine today," he declared. All through the crisis in Ukraine, Russian TV channels have been hammering home the same message.  At the same time, say leading members of the Jewish community, some pro-Kremlin journalists have themselves been feeding anti-Semitism in Russia, in the language used to attack Mr Putin's opponents, who are being branded as "traitors" and "fifth columnists". Outing Jewish writers who had adopted Russian-sounding pseudonyms was one of the tactics used in the anti-Semitic campaign unleashed by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in the late 1940s. According to the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), state TV presenter Dmitry Kiselev was guilty of a similar ploy in an attack on 16 February on writers Viktor Shenderovich and Igor Irtenyev, who had both likened the Sochi Winter Olympics to Hitler's Summer Games in 1936. Kiselev rejected Irtenyev's contention that the only significant difference between the two events was that Nazi Germany had a higher standard of living, and he told Rossiya 1 viewers that the poet's real name was Igor Moiseyevich Rabinovich - leaving little doubt as to his ethnicity. He went on to say that under Hitler both Shenderovich and Irtenyev would have perished.
The RJC condemned Kiselev's remarks, saying it was "unacceptable when the ethnicity of an opponent is used as an argument in debate, or as additional grounds for criticising him". Dubbed by The Economist "Russia's chief propagandist", Kiselev is one of the targets of EU sanctions imposed in response to the annexation of Crimea. The suggestive use of Jewish-sounding names also seems to have featured in an article by Aleksandr Grishin in pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda about the opposition March for Peace on 15 March. Headlined "Russia's 'true shame'" the article listed a number of people at the Russian march who, it said, applauded Ukrainian nationalists with alleged Nazi sympathies: "Makarevich, Bykov, Kats, Shats and Nemtsov" - all of them known to be Jewish or having Jewish-sounding names. But, said RJC president Yuri Kanner, one of those listed - TV presenter Mikhail Shats - was not even there. "Why was he included? Because he is a Jew," said Kanner. Kanner also took issue with the article's description of the marchers as "traitors" and "people without a motherland". The latter, he said, was a coded phrase for Jews. This is not the first time that Komsomolskaya Pravda has faced accusations of anti-Semitism. Last May, another of its columnists, Ulyana Skoybeda, wrote on its website: "Sometimes you are sorry that the Nazis did not make lampshades out of today's liberals - there would be fewer problems." The sentence was quickly removed and Skoybeda reprimanded. But editor Vladimir Sungorkin refused to sack her.   Evelina Zakamskaya, a presenter on state-owned news channel Rossiya 24, also got into a Holocaust controversy over a remark she made in an interview with Aleksandr Prokhanov, editor of the nationalist newspaper Zavtra. Speaking about Jews who supported the "fascist" opponents of Mr Yanukovych in Ukraine, Prokhanov said: "Don't they realise that with their own hands they are hastening a second Holocaust?" To which Zakamskaya replied: "They also hastened the first one."
This little exchange went largely unnoticed when it was first broadcast on 23 February. It was only when Zavtra quoted Zakamskaya on Twitter a month later that it got wider attention. One of those who spotted the Zavtra tweet was a top Russian blogger and Israeli citizen, Anton Nosik, who delivered the following damning verdict: "The descent of state propaganda into total, undisguised Nazism is a logical and predictable process. But the pace at which the brown plague is currently creeping around the byways of state TV and radio is impressive."  Two deputies from the St Petersburg municipal assembly urged Rossiya 24 to take Zakamskaya off the air. So far, though, the station has refused to comment on the incident, says the website. According to Kanner, Zakamskaya's Holocaust comment was a direct result of the state broadcaster's failure to take action over Kiselev's attack on Irtenyev. "Acquiescence was taken as a hint and became a signal," he wrote on a blog on Ekho Moskvy's website. It is not yet clear how this "signal" was received by society at large, he added. But, according to, there is now a sense of a "shift in Russian public national politics towards openly anti-Semitic rhetoric". A further example of this trend, it said, was a speech by controversial St Petersburg deputy Vitaly Milonov on 19 March calling for the feast of a Russian Orthodox saint to be made a public holiday. Milonov took pre-emptive aim at "neo-liberals", accusing them of having a "2,000-year-old tradition" of dishonouring saints going back to their "calls for the Saviour to be crucified". Milonov is best known for his strong support for laws banning the promotion of homosexuality among minors.  The Federation of Russia's Jewish Communities condemned him for deploying "anti-Semitic stereotypes".

^ Blaming the Jews has always been a part of the Russian character since the first Jew came to Russia (as it was in many parts of Eastern Europe.) It was "easier" to live in poverty and blame the Jews for that rather than admit the true oppressor (the Government.) The Czars, Soviets and now "modern" Russians have/are using the same tactics as before (things do not change quickly in Russia.) The problems may change throughout the years, but when all is said and done the "culprit" remains the same - the Jews. I remember when I lived in Russia. I made a point of going to a synagogue. As I didn't speak Russian at the time I had to take a translator. This synagogue was bombed a few years earlier by Russians blaming the Jews for the economic and politic problems of the area. I knocked on the door and an old man slide a small opening and asked who I was and what I wanted. My translator told him and he shut the small opening and you could hear many locks being unlocked. He opened the door and I was allowed in. I stood in a small area between he front door and another locked door while I was "frisked" for weapons. The man apologized to me, but told me about the bombing and the other attacks and that they now did this to try and be safe.  I said I understood - even though I didn't really as I have never experienced such fear (by the Jews) or such hate (by the Russians) personally. I was then brought to the main part of the synagogue - which was being rebuilt - and met several very nice people. It was around the time of Passover and I was invited to attend their Seder. I didn't get to go to the Seder, but it was nice to be invited. Throughout the whole time my translator was clearly nervous and scared. She acted as though these nice people where going to attack her at any moment. Even I could tell, without knowing any Russian, that these people were nice, kind and genuine from their tone of voice and movements. It was a good experience for me to see, even for a few hours, first-hand how Russian Jews live in modern-day Russia. My translator advised me not to go back as she was scared (probably from all the lies past down from one generation to the next about the Jews.) It seems that not much has changed even in "modern" Russia. ^

Kiev Prepares

From the MT:
"Jumpy Kiev Checks Out Bomb Shelters Amid Talk of Russian Attack"

Ukrainian authorities have carried out an inspection tour of Kiev's bomb shelters as lawmakers accused Russia of fomenting trouble in the Ukrainian capital after having annexed the Black Sea region of Crimea. The new leadership seemed on edge after a far-right radical group that played a central role in the revolt that overthrew president Viktor Yanukovych rallied angrily outside parliament, demanding the dismissal of Arsen Avakov, the interior minister. "They [the Russians] did not manage to ignite the flame of separatism in our regions," said acting president Oleksandr Turchynov. "So now there are attempts to destabilize the situation in the heart of Ukraine, in Kiev."
Tens of thousands of Russian troops thought to be massed on the border have shown no immediate sign of entering other parts of Ukraine, and President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow has no designs on other parts of its smaller neighbor. But Russia is expected to use every weapon in its economic arsenal to punish Ukraine for its U-turn towards Europe. In an unusual step that added to a climate of apprehension, Kiev authorities announced on Friday that they had carried out checks on more than 500 urban bomb shelters in the capital to ensure they were in good working order, and were working on a new early warning system for the population of the former Soviet republic. "We have 526 defense installations (shelters) in Kiev … Today the city authorities are working to ensure that they are in appropriate technical condition to be able to guarantee the protection of people," Volodymyr Bondarenko, head of the capital's administration, said in a statement. Ukraine's new leaders, who took power after the pro-Russian Yanukovych fled on Feb. 20 following three months of sometimes violent unrest, appeared unnerved after Right Sector, an ultra-radical group, staged a protest outside parliament on Thursday night and threatened similar action on Friday. The group came to prominence during the three-month "Euromaidan" revolt against Yanukovych by breaking away from the largely peaceful demonstration to use violent tactics against riot police, throwing petrol bombs and bricks.
Although unable at the time to condone the violent tactics used by the group, the then-opposition leaders who are now in power could not begrudge the part Right Sector played in eventually toppling Yanukovych.

^ Some would see this as being scared while most would see it as a sad reality. Russia already invaded and occupies part of the Ukraine so it makes sense for those not in the Russian-occupied part to be prepared just in case. You are supposed to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. Hopefully,. Russia won't invade the rest of the Ukraine, but you never know. ^

Soviet Dream

From the DW:
"Soviet cult and pragmatism in Transnistria"

Experts worry that the next "Crimea" could be the breakaway region of Transnistria. Many locals there don't share that fear, and if the last referendum holds, a large majority would welcome a Russian annexation. The Soviet tank in the city center of Tiraspol has many friends. For one young boy, the war memorial has become something of a climbing wall. He makes his way over the hull, glances around curiously at the panorama of prefabricated housing, and waves at his grandmother, who waits for him below. Teenagers, too, seem to like the tank, where their friends photograph them. Nearby, the gilded dome of a small Russian Orthodox Church glows in the spring sunshine. Even higher than the church steeple, a statue of Vladimir Lenin looms against the blue sky and a parliament building called "Supreme Soviet" - all in a country which, according to international law, does not exist.  After a brief military conflict, Transnistria split from the Republic of Moldova in 1992. It has never been recognized internationally by any state. Russian troops are still stationed in the separatist region. In a 2006 referendum, roughly 97 percent of its citizens voted to join the Russian Federation. The president of Transnistria's parliament recalled that vote last week, according to Russian newspaper "Vedemosti." He was reported to have requested that Russia create a legal basis for the annexation of Transnistria. "We Slavs should live under Slavs - and Russia is on the right path politically," said a man with a gray moustache, browsing a Tiraspol flea market. A blind street musician played the accordion while older people offered their wares, from buttons with Soviet symbols to secondhand shoes and plumbing pipes. Like the moustached flea market visitor, 60 percent of Transnistria's half-million citizens speak Russian. The man said he has nothing against the Republic of Moldova or its Romanian-speaking people. He studied engineering in Moldova's capital, and said he is not interested in speaking Romanian, the official language of Moldova, to which Transnistria continues to officially belong. But when it comes to political problems, in his view, it isn't Moldova's government that is at fault, but rather a great conspiracy by the United States. "Yugoslavia used to be a paradise, but the Americans turned it into hell," he said. "They've now done that with Ukraine - and that will also happen in Moldova."  For a middle-aged math teacher, "No chaos like in Ukraine" is the most important goal. Russian troops in Transnistria, she said, will ensure that. She said she would endorse a union with Russia without hesitation and called the new leaders in Kyiv "fascists!" This interpretation of events is consistent with statements made by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian state media popular in the region. The teacher said she has no fear of crisis enveloping the region since, "The troops from Russia protect our borders well." But not everyone sees Moscow as a friend and helper. An elderly woman reading a book in the sun first looks around carefully before speaking. "I'm Ukrainian," she whispered. "How could I be in favor of an annexation of Transnistria to the Russian Federation?" She and others did not want their names in the media and requested no photos be made of them. In Western guidebooks, Transnistria has been referred to as "an open-air museum of the Soviet Union." But even here, time does not stand still. At first glance, it rather appears that several eras coexist simultaneously: The secret service of the authoritarian state, which is not really a state, is called the KGB - as it was in the Soviet Union. The Communist hammer and sickle symbols and statues of Soviet heroes would raise the heart rate of just about any nostalgic former Soviet citizen. But colorful posters advertising new smart phones are also to be seen on the road between Tiraspol and the city of Bender on the Transnistria-Moldova "border."
In Tiraspol, fashionably dressed young people talk about their future, one which they don't always imagine in Transnistria. A young woman with blonde curls said she'll probably study in Moldova, since "there's education on a European level there." An athletic young man in a tracksuit explains in Romanian that he has a positive attitude towards Moldova. But everything comes down to living standards. "If they were as high in Moldova as in Russia, even people from Russia would want to move there," he said. In Russia, he worked in construction "for good money." He said he knows Moscow supports people in the breakaway region of Russia - such as with pensions subsidized by the Russian state. Additionally, fuel and natural gas are cheaper in Transnistria than in Moldova. His wife added that people in Crimea would surely benefit from being a part of Russia. "They'll get better pensions than before." And why is Russia alone so attractive for young people likely to view themselves as pragmatists - and not the European Union, with its higher living standards? The man in the jogging suit shrugs and lets his gaze drift off into the distance: "Because I've never been to Europe. I don't even know anything about it."

^ This is the true land that time forgot. Like the former USSR it seems this region continues to be extremely poor and despite being "independent" and having Russian troops since 1991 the area and it's people continue to be one of the most under-developed and less modern of all of Europe. Can you imagine if a region of Germany became "independent" and kept itself exactly like Nazi Germany was? That is the same thing here, only instead of Nazi laws and symbols they use Soviet ones. I wonder if they kept the long lines for basic items, the rationing, the Gulags and the constant threat of knowing you could be informed and arrested at any moment for doing absolutely nothing. ^

Cost Of Crimea

From Yahoo:
"Russia counts economic cost of Crimea intervention"

Russia has started counting the cost of seizing Crimea from Ukraine to its already stuttering economy, anxiously hoping that the West will refrain from implementing a second wave of sanctions that would cause even greater damage. Moscow, already excluded from the G8, is planning for at least economic semi-isolation from the world for the next years with President Vladimir Putin this week saying Russia should create its own credit card system. Western sanctions have so far only imposed visa bans and asset freezes on senior officials -- some close to Putin -- but the fear of further action hurting the wider economy is already causing damage with the stock market down 6 percent in March. The most immediate hit has been on capital outflows which are estimated by economists and officials to have surged to $60-70 billion for the first quarter, more than for all of 2013 combined, as investors took fright at the uncertainty. Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev last week became the first top official to admit the Crimea intervention would badly hit GDP, slashing to ribbons the government's previous 2014 growth estimate of 2.5 percent. He said growth would be a measly 0.6 percent in 2014 if capital flight was around $100 billion for the full year, a figure that some economists see as wildly optimistic given the current trends. The economy would contract by 1.8 percent if capital flight reached $150 billion for the year due to a projected eight percent decline in investment, he added, echoing a prediction by the World Bank. "The key discussion on the market now is whether Russia can maintain a positive growth rate, or will it slide into decline," said economist Natalya Orlova at Alfa Bank. Alexei Kudrin, the long-serving finance minister who resigned in 2011 but is known to retain Putin's trust, said that Russia was knowingly paying a colossal economic cost for a political decision.  "We are paying hundreds of millions of dollars for this development of events. If this was the choice that has wide support then we have to understand that it has an economic cost," he said, quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency. The risk for Putin is particularly grave as the consequences of the Crimea adventure come at a time when Russia is already struggling with low growth due to its failure to reform an economy held back by dependence on energy exports. "Russia's slowdown is, to a large extent, structural," Standard and Poor's said in a report on the crisis this week. Russia enjoyed stellar rates of growth in the early years of Putin's domination, culminating in 8.5 percent in 2007. Then came the 2008-2009 financial crisis, after which Russia staged an only faltering recovery with growth of just 1.3 percent in 2013.
Business daily Vedomosti said that the concern was now that with the political crisis burning, questions of economic reform would be forgotten. "Already it is like reforms are not going to be thought about -- experts have become objects of suspicion, ratings agencies are not trusted and non-traditional investors in other markets are being searched for." Standard and Poor's and Fitch have already both downgraded their outlook on Russia's credit ratings to negative, moves that prompted some officials to suggest Russia needed to create its own ratings organisations. Crucial will be whether the West intends to go further with sanctions on trade or financial markets which would have an immediate negative impact on the Russian economy. This should depend largely on whether Putin decides to go beyond the seizure of Crimea by moving into Russian-speaking regions in the east and south of the country, an act which would cross a new red line with the West. "A move up to more dangerous sanctions is still unlikely unless Russian forces move into another part of Ukraine," said Chris Weafer of Macro Advisory in Moscow. Standard and Poor's said it believed "self interest would prevail" with the EU also wary of the risk of disruption. Russia is not yet close implementing its own version of "autarky", the concept of total economic self sufficiency cut off from the outside economy espoused by regimes from Nazi Germany to North Korea.  Economists have warned that cutting Russia off from the Western economy -- an idea sometimes raised by Putin's radical advisor Sergei Glazyev -- would be a disaster for the country and its current leaders. Putin indeed appears keen not to burn the bridges and held a conspicuous meeting on March 26 with the chief executive of Siemens, Joe Kaeser, who promised that the German industrial giant planned long term investment in Russia.
"Our integration in the world allows us cheaper investment and supports our growth. If we distance ourselves from the world economy our growth is going to be slower and every percentage of GDP will cost more," said Kudrin.

^ Russia needs to realize the true cost of when you invade and occupy another country. Maybe then it will see that even though it has a strong military (especially considering they have conscription) their economy will suffer nevertheless. Putin claims that he will make Russia economically independent. That is a pipe-dream. The Soviet Union officially claimed that they were economically independent and yet they received grain and other imports from the US alone. They also had to start foreign-currency stores (to pay their debts) where foreigners and the Communist elite paid for items that ordinary Soviets couldn't even dream getting - even if they stayed in the longest line for years. Even the most isolated country on the planet today, North Korea, uses the American Dollar in their "best" stores. Sometimes people talk and act before they think. An intelligent person will admit and learn from their mistakes while an unintelligent person will continue making the same mistakes over and over again. Hopefully, Putin is in the first group. ^

Vet Home

From USA Today:
"VA restores aid to homeless veterans"

The VA has reversed course in the face of complaints from community groups and a USA TODAY query and restored aid to potentially several thousand homeless veterans who otherwise could have been left on the streets. The assistance, for a category of homeless veterans who have less than honorable discharges, had quietly been pulled in recent months after a legal review of eligibility laws. The support programs — called highly effective by community support groups nationwide — funnel money from the Department of Veterans Affairs through local organizations to provide immediate financial support or transitional housing for homeless veterans. But after the legal review, the VA cut access to the financial support program in December and to the transitional housing program in February for all veterans with less than honorable discharges and for those who served less than 24 months in the military, the VA said. These veterans are generally ineligible for VA health care, and the agency's lawyers determined that ineligibility for VA health care rendered a veteran ineligible for homeless programs. Community groups were shocked, particularly given President Obama's stated goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015. "There is something morally wrong here," said Phil Landis, president and CEO of Veterans Village of San Diego, a transitional housing program that turned away 14 homeless veterans in February after the policy change. Ten had served in or during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Landis said. "This is federal bureaucracy at its most heartless," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Senate Budget Committee chairman and a senior member on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, whose office received complaints. "(It) defies all common sense." VA officials said a law was necessary to change the eligibility rules. "We would hope for some type of relief where somebody would look at this and understand that it runs counter to what the president, what the secretary (Eric Shinseki), what the Congress, what the veteran and what everybody needs to end homelessness," said Vince Kane, head of the VA's National Center on
Murray introduced legislation Friday to correct the problem. Late Friday, responding to a USA TODAY query, the VA said its lawyers were working toward a permanent decision on eligibility.
In the meantime, Robert Petzel, the VA's undersecretary for health, restored support for all homeless veterans who had previously been receiving it, the VA said. "This decision will remain in effect until a final legal opinion has been rendered," the VA said in a statement, adding that on Monday it will notify community groups that administer the programs. About 10% of veterans living on the street have other-than-honorable discharges, according to a national database on homeless veterans maintained by Community Solutions, a national non-profit group that fights homelessness and poverty. Nearly 58,000 veterans were homeless in 2013 based on a one-night count by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Other-than-honorable discharges often occur in cases directly related to combat stress, said Pete Dougherty, a VA homeless program official until his retirement last year. Troops diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder sometimes self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, and substance-related infractions such as drunken driving result, leading to an other-than-honorable discharge, Dougherty said. Some of these veterans later become homeless.
Dougherty said the VA, in its earlier determinations about eligibility, had cut off aid to "some who need us the most."

^ It is pretty sad when you hear that a veteran (someone who risked everything for their country) is homeless and even more sad when you hear just how many thousands there are. The VA seems to always do the opposite of helping any veterans. That needs to change and it needs to change now. ^

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Noah (2014)

I just watched this movie today at the theater. It was ok. Of course I knew the Biblical story and so had a knowledge of what was going to happen in the film before I saw it, but the movie just didn't sit right with me. It had famous actors and actresses (Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Nick Nolte and Logan Lerman, but even that couldn't bring the movie together. The movie, even in the "epic" flood scene, seemed to drag on forever. I also don't remember learning about any rock creatures (like the kind they have in "The Neverending Story") being in the Bible. It is one of those movies that had a few good parts, but as a whole didn't match-up to all the hype. It would be better to watch it on Netflix or the TV than at the theater.

French Nazi

From the Globe and Mail:
"Group honouring Canada's war vets now battling French extremists"

Police were deployed in the city of Caen last month – just in case – when French youths gathered to lay paper poppies in homage to a Regina Rifles scout who was killed there in 1944. The local Caen association that organized the ceremony is dedicated to honouring Canada for its role in Normandy. But it is also involved in a legal battle with a notorious French far-right extremist who is using its images in Internet videos denying the Holocaust. “I wonder what the Canadians who died in France would think,” says Christophe Collet, the French high-school teacher who organized the Caen ceremony. “They liberated France, and 70 years later Nazi ideology is still around.” A French neo-Nazi ideologue, Vincent Reynouard, has targeted Mr. Collet for his volunteer work at the head of a group that educates youths about Canada’s contribution to the Allied invasion. This association, Westlake Brothers Souvenir, is named after three Toronto brothers – George, Tommy and Albert – who died in combat in June, 1944, a rare occurrence even by world war standards. For Mr. Reynouard, who has inundated YouTube with more than 120 videos, Mr. Collet typifies what he describes as France’s “state religion” – a cult-like belief, he argues, banning critical thinking about the Holocaust. In one recent 19-minute video, he accuses Mr. Collet of being “intolerant” and “fanatical.” In an older, 44-minute video, Mr. Reynouard criticizes Mr. Collet’s commemorations for failing to take into account the French civilians who died in the Allied invasion. More controversially, Mr. Reynouard adds there is “no proof” that the gas chambers ever existed. Mr. Collet stumbled upon this second video when surfing the Net to see what other youth groups were doing ahead of the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June. He said he was shocked to see what came up when he searched for the French terms devoir de mémoire (duty to remember) and jeunesse (youth). “I couldn’t believe it,” he recalls. “The first thing that came up was Nazi propaganda.”
Mr. Collet, who teaches French and geography in a vocational high school, was also distressed to see that Mr. Reynouard had used – he says “hijacked” – some of his association’s images. Most of the footage shows students, some of them tearful, touring the D-Day beaches where so many died, along with other war sites. Dismissing the notion that taking Mr. Reynouard to court would only publicize his revisionist views, Mr. Collet has decided to take legal action. “What the association is trying to do is to educate young people about the true meaning of citizenship,” he explains. “We can’t say ‘this is Nazi propaganda’ and then turn around and say ‘it’s not so bad.’” A legal battle was not what Mr. Collet expected in 2006 when he founded Westlake Brothers Souvenir with the aim of paying tribute to the Canadian soldiers who fought and died in his city. “Canada is often overlooked in D-Day commemorations,” he remarks. “A lot is said about the role of the U.S., about the British [but] much less about Canada.” Westlake Brothers Souvenir last month lodged a complaint in Caen against Mr. Reynouard for alleged denial of crimes against humanity, an offence under French law often referred to as négationnisme. The group filed a second complaint (also in Caen) for illegal use of its images. Six other entities, including a rural municipality and a village, Trévières and Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse, where Canadian troops fought against German forces, are co-plaintiffs. If Mr. Collet wins in court, Mr. Reynouard could eventually be sent to prison. A French court already convicted him for négationnisme in 2007, and he went to prison in 2010 to serve his one-year sentence. Although he is a marginal figure, Reynouard’s incarceration attracted some international attention. Hundreds signed a petition to press for his release and the repeal of the French law banning the denial of crimes against humanity. Signatories included U.S. linguist Noam Chomsky and French comedian Dieudonné, notorious for popularizing the quenelle gesture, often described as an inverted Nazi salute. Mr. Reynouard, a mathematics teacher who was sacked by the French Education Ministry for his views in 1997, has also sparked controversy in Belgium. The Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism last month asked Google Belgium and YouTube to withdraw “many” of Mr. Reynouard’s videos from the Internet, arguing they violate Belgian law and YouTube’s “community guidelines” on hate speech. “We’d like to see his clips deleted purely and simply,” explains Joël Rubinfeld, president of the LCBA, the League’s French acronym. Although Mr. Reynouard’s whereabouts are unknown, it is believed he is living in hiding, in either France or Belgium, with fundamentalist Catholic sympathizers. In one of his recent videos, he declares that he is ready to return to prison, confident his “sacrifice” will not be in vain. “Future generations will know who was the honest man and who were the pathetic liars,” he claims. Despite the looming court case, Westlake Brothers Souvenir is keen to continue its regular activities. It is set to hold a candlelight vigil on April 12 at the Canadian military cemetery in Bény-sur-Mer, the final resting place of 2,049 people, including the Westlakes and eight other sets of siblings.

^ I am all for freedom of speech, etc when it deals with the call for violence against others. Groups like the Neo-Nazis and the KKK not only call for violence against certain people many members act on that violence themselves. Any group that calls for violence against another should be immediately banned and their members arrested. Neo-Nazis have plagued Europe for decades and many countries simply look the other way (in he same way the US does with regards to the KKK.) I am glad that there are still some groups of people that, despite being threatened by these extremists, continue their mission. France has the British, Free Poles, Free French, Americans and the Canadians to thank for their liberation during World War 2 (something many French forget nowadays.) It is essential that countries like France remember those foreigner soldiers that risked their lives to help free people they had never met (with many dying trying to do so.) I know that in the Netherlands, the Dutch are so thankful to the Canadians that that is the main reason the Dutch learn near-perfect English. The French, on the other hand, get too arrogant and most barely speak any foreign language, much less English. This is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1 (for many countries - the US didn't enter until 1917) and next year is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2. Both of these wars involved places/countries like Canada and the US to fight and die in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, etc and while the native populations should always remember their sacrifice it is especially important to do so on these key anniversaries. ^

Gulag Tourism

From MT:
"Sakha Republic Hopes to Encourage Gulag Tourism"

The republic of Sakha's numerous Gulag camps, built in the Soviet period and now abandoned,  could in the future become "a postcard for attracting tourists," Sakha republic tourism minister Yekaterina Kormilitsyna said, reported.  A meeting of the Sakha republic's tourism ministry last week recommended that the republic take steps to construct tourist camps at the sites of the Dalstroi, Yanstroi, and Senduchensky Gulags.  Gulag, an acronym referring the government body that administered the Soviet system of prison camps, describes a type of forced labor camp used to hold criminals and political prisoners from 1934-1960. Typically located in remote regions, Gulags put prisoners to work at tasks like mining, logging, and basic manufacturing.  According to maps available from Memorial, the republic of Sakha was home to 13 Gulags, while the neighboring Magadan Oblast was home to considerably more. Of the Sakha camps, the Dalstroi Gulag was among the largest: Between 1932 and 1954, 859,911 prisoners entered the camp, 121,256 of whom died during their time there.  While some former Gulags have been adapted for use as prisons, many of them now stand empty. Kormylitsyna noted that the remote location of the republic of Sakha's Gulags put them in the midst of pristine wilderness and offered the possibility for developing ecotourism.

^ There are KGB Museums throughout the former Iron Curtain so having a Gulag Museum would go along those lines. Also there is little difference to the Gestapo Museums and the Concentration Camp Museums in the rest of Europe (both were designed to hold those deemed unfit for regular society.) I would be interested to visit a Gulag just like I have been to a Concentration Camp. ^

First Weddings

From the BBC:
"Same-sex marriage now legal as first couples wed"

The first same-sex weddings have taken place after gay marriage became legal in England and Wales at midnight.  Politicians from the main parties have hailed the change in the law. David Cameron said the move sent a message that people were now equal "whether gay or straight", but some religious groups remain opposed.  Scotland passed a similar law in February; the first same-sex marriages are expected there in October. Northern Ireland has no plans to follow suit.  "In an article for the Pink News website, the prime minister wrote: "This weekend is an important moment for our country.
"It says we are a country that will continue to honour its proud traditions of respect, tolerance and equal worth." Later on Saturday morning, Mr Cameron tweeted: "Congratulations to the gay couples who have already been married - and my best wishes to those about to be on this historic day."
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said "Britai. He congratulated his party for being part of the reform, saying: "If our change to the law means a single young man or young woman who wants to come out, but who is scared of what the world will say, now feels safer, stronger, taller - well, for me, getting into coalition government will have been worth it just for that." One of the first couples to take advantage of the law change were married at Islington Town Hall in London just after midnight.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell acted as chief witness at a packed ceremony as Peter McGraith and David Cabreza wed after 17 years together. But Mr Cabreza added: "From a global and political perspective it's great too, but for us it's also about us and our marriage."  Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said on Friday night the Church of England would now drop its opposition to same-sex marriage, as Parliament had spoken. "The law's changed; we accept the situation," he told the BBC.

^  There was a short window where it seemed that gay marriage was becoming legal all over the place and now that has slowed down. There are still large areas of the US and Europe that don't allow it not to mention the rest of the world (ie Asia, Africa, Russia, the Caribbean, the Middle East) that not only make it illegal, but also punishable by death or jail. ^

Friday, March 28, 2014

Airline Disabled

From Yahoo:
"Airline Apologizes for Insulting 'Deaf and Dumb' Note"

James Moehle and Angela Huckaby returned to Texas this week from a beautiful Hawaiian vacation, but the trip home was marred slightly by lost luggage but even more so when the luggage turned up with an insulting note attached. "Please text, deaf and dumb," were the instructions left on the American Airlines lost baggage receipt on how best to reach the couple. The couple is deaf, but "dumb" is an archaic way of describing people unable to speak, an expression that is now considered offensive. In a letter to American Airlines, James Moehle, an air conditioning and heating technician wrote, "I assure you that neither of us are 'Dumb!' Rather, we are both hard-working individuals and responsible parents. We certainly deserve to be treated with dignity and respect." Moehle ended the letter saying, "We demand not only an immediate apology from American Airlines, but also that disciplinary action be taken against the employee who wrote the unacceptable note." American Airlines quickly apologized. "We apologize to Mr. Moehle and Ms. Huckaby. It was clearly a very poor choice of words. We're confident there was no ill will, but we'll be looking into this further and will be following up with our team members at IAH and the contractor that provides our baggage delivery services," American Airlines said in a statement to the couple. Both James and his mother, Kaye Moehle, want more. "To me, it's not enough. They have not satisfied me, nor have they, to my knowledge, satisfied my son either," Mrs. Moehle said. "So far their messages have been dismissive. I want to hear something like 'we take this seriously, we are investigating, and we will get back to you." "I don't even know if they take it seriously," James Moehle said. "I just want them to not ever do that again to someone else." Moehle lost his hearing when he was just 17-months-old due to spinal meningitis. The doctors told his mother that he was likely to die, but after 14 days and nights in the hospital, Moehle survived but suffers from hearing loss. His girlfriend, Angela Huckaby, is also deaf.
"I cannot describe how I felt," James Moehle, 34, told ABC News via text message. "I felt lost, angry, confused, and mistreated." Moehle said that this was the first time he has encountered such offensive behavior towards the deaf. Until receiving that note, the Hawaiian trip had been a thrill. It was Moehle's first ever plane ride and first vacation in 16 years. The couple zip-lined over the waterfalls of Hawaii's Hilo island, visited state parks, saw volcanoes, had a tremendous time with wonderful pictures to show, Kaye said. "I picked them up from the airport and both of them were beaming with joy," Kaye Moehle, 64, said. To come home to this kind of offensive behavior, put a sour note on the couple's island getaway, she said, recalling that her "heart broke" when her son texted her an attachment of the insensitive return note. "I found it to be like a slap in the face to my son," she said. "It was extremely unacceptable, hurtful, and cruel," Mrs. Moehle said. "People don't understand. If they don't have a deaf member in their family, they don't understand what they have to go through. They have to go to work just like you and I, and we are so fortunate that we have our hearing. Hearing people aren't ever called 'hearing and dumb.'"

^ I don't understand why these companies are still making excuses when their employees openly discriminate against their customers. A few weeks ago it was Bath and Body Works and now American Airlines.The Federal Government needs to step-in and show these companies that what their employees are doing is wrong and illegal and that they need to start taking these acts seriously. If an airline passenger (disabled or not) wrote something bad about the air crew - as one did about a female pilot last month  - it is taken very seriously by the airline yet when the airline does it it is "ok." Since 2001 airlines and their staff have been given way too much power to treat their customers as cattle. Anyone who complains of this mal-treatment is branded a "terrorist" and so the victim is made the instigator. It has been 13 years and there needs to be a drastic change. The airlines need to start treating their passengers as people (by Federal Government force if need be.) There are bad passengers (ie drunks and a handful of terrorists) that need to be "dealt" with. Put the days of an airline making all their passengers "guilty under they prove themselves innocent" are over. It has also been 24 years since the ADA and yet businesses haven't really been forced to accommodate or treat the disabled in the way the laws say they have to. Things only get done when the disabled "fight" each and every company for every small thing. I have seen it first-hand and had to get the Feds involved several times just to make a business/company do what the law already says they have to. ^

Crimean Refugees

From USA Today: 
"Some Crimeans flee new Russian province"

During her last two days in Crimea, 13-year-old Kateryna Zinovieva began carrying scissors in her pocket — a habit she developed after her parents started receiving death threats. Being vocal opponents of Moscow-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, the family's life turned hellish once the move was on in Crimea to clear the way for a takeover by Russia. Anonymous phone callers harassed them and strangers banged on their front door. Frightened by the threats, the family along with 3,600 other Crimeans left as the Russians moved in, according to figures from the Ministry of Social Politics in Ukraine. The main destination for those fleeing the region is Lviv, a western Ukrainian city seen as the center of nationalist movements that have scared many Ukrainians.
Now it hosts many who have fled the peninsula, with 300 families offered shelter with people already living there. Twenty-seven-year-old Zarema Kuchuk, her husband and their three small children have been living with a Lviv family since early March. They are Crimean Tatars, the minority ethnic group of around 500,000 people who are from Crimea. "We know Russia," Kuchuk said. "We know that it has always treated the Crimean Tatars badly in the past." Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea last week after Russian troops along with pro-Moscow Crimeans took over the Ukraine province. He has shown no sign of giving it back despite pressure from Western nations that the move is illegal. Putin on Thursday told members of the Russia Federation Council that he plans a swift integration of the region into Russia. "We are now facing many questions, which lawmakers are confronted with as well," Putin said according to the Moscow Times. "We must ensure that Crimea and Sevastopol enter our legal system smoothly, carefully, systematically and professionally without creating any problems for people, and while developing the economy and social spheres of these two new subjects of the Russian Federation." Putin also insisted that Crimean authorities be actively involved in the transition process for the residents of Crimea to feel like "full-fledged citizens of the Russian Federation as quickly as possible." Originally from Crimea, the Tatars were driven out and deported and, according to some reports, killed, under the orders of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Many fled to Turkey and Central Asia, only allowed to return to the peninsula since 1989. "We want to go back eventually," Kuchuk said. "But we will never be Russian citizens. This is just not us. All Crimean Tatars feel this way about Russia." Still, she said it is hard to know they have left everything behind. "What we have now, we've earned grain by grain since we returned to Crimea," Kuchuk said. "It's not easy to just abandon everything and leave. We told the kids we were here on vacation." In the city of Dnipropetrovsk, ethnic Ukrainian Eygeniy Krivenko fled his home two weeks ago out of fear of the violence that has escalated in the past month. "One can get beaten for just speaking Ukrainian on the street now," he said. "The friends I've known for 10 years now watch out for anyone Ukrainian as an enemy. They started giving me warnings." The 38-year-old single father is especially worried about his 5-year-old daughter Eva, who is still suffering from shock after witnessing him almost getting attacked for trying to film a pro-Russia rally in the Crimean city of Yevpatoriya. One of the rally participants shouted at Krivenko's daughter and cursed her. Once they had arrived in Dnipropetrovsk, Krivenko took Eva to the first demonstration that took place there just to show that she wouldn't get attacked again. "My daughter used to proudly tell everyone she's Ukrainian," he said. "Now she's stopped doing it."
^ I have seen the pictures of the refugees. They don't look that those of World War 2 or the Yugoslav Wars. They are different in that many people have had to flee in secret so the pro-Russians and the Russian military doesn't get them. There is all this talk about how the ethnic Russians were being abused and discriminated against (something that has never been shown to be true in the 23 years since the Ukraine has been independent.) It seems the real instigators of the violence are the ethnic Russians in the Ukraine (both in the Crimea as well as in eastern Ukraine.) The "legitimacy" that Russia claimed to have in their invasion and occupation of the Ukraine has since been shown to be false with the majority of UN countries recently saying it was "illegal." I can only hope that these refugees are given the basics they need and deserve and that the world doesn't forget those still in Russian-occupied Ukraine. ^

Thursday, March 27, 2014

UN Says: Illegal!

From the BBC:
"Ukraine: UN condemns Crimea vote as IMF and US back loans"

The UN General Assembly has approved a resolution describing the Moscow-backed referendum that led to Russia's annexation of Crimea as illegal. It comes after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to a loan deal with Ukraine worth $14-18bn. The US Congress also passed legislation on Thursday backing a $1bn loan guarantee for Ukraine. Tensions are high between Russia and the West after pro-Russian troops annexed Ukraine's southern peninsula. The West has widely condemned the move, with US President Barack Obama warning on Wednesday of "deeper" EU and US sanctions against Russia if it carried out further incursions in Ukraine.  One hundred countries voted in favour of approving a UN General Assembly resolution declaring the Crimean referendum on 16 March illegal and affirming Ukraine's territorial integrity  Eleven nations voted against, with 58 abstentions.
"This support has come from all corners of the world which shows that this (is) not only a regional matter but a global one,'' Ukraine's Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia told reporters after the vote.
Given that the resolution was non-binding, the vote was largely symbolic, says the BBC's Nick Bryant in New York. But Ukraine hopes the resolution will act as a deterrent and dissuade Moscow from making further incursions into its territory, he adds.

^ Even though this vote is non-binding it does clearly show that the majority of the world does not believe Russia or it's made-up logic of "protecting the ethnic Russians in the Crimea" It is merely a way for Russia to use force to get whatever it wants. Hopefully, this will deter Russia from taking any other region/country it wants in the future. The people in Russian-occupied Ukraine deserve to know that the rest of the world sees through the excuses and lies and knows the truth behind the invasion and occupation. ^

Crimean Hero

From Yahoo:
"Ukraine finds new hero in besieged base commander"

After Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia, a man in a black raincoat turned up at the gate of the Belbek Air Base to demand that Ukrainian forces holed up inside surrender to Russia. The Ukrainian commander of the base came out wearing his cap decorated with gold wings — and refused. The Russian visitor persisted: "From yesterday, you are located on the territory of a foreign state. So I'm giving you your chance to keep your honor as an officer." "As an officer with honor, I tell you I will stay," retorted Air Force Col. Yuliy Mamchur. That act of defiance against the overwhelming force of Russian troops that had put Belbek under siege created a new Ukrainian national hero. Today, Mamchur is hailed as an officer who stood up to the Russian juggernaut, remained true to his oath as a soldier and held out with his beleaguered unit in Crimea for as long as he could. After Mamchur refused to cave, Russian forces overran Belbek with irresistible force and numbers. Mamchur stood calmly with his men. He led them in singing the Ukrainian national anthem, which begins with the lyrics "Ukraine's glory and freedom are not yet dead."
Russian forces then arrested Mamchur and took him away for questioning. He withstood five days of sustained intimidation and pressure to defect from his captors — and he was released on Wednesday after that pressure proved futile. "They tried to get me to renounce my military oath to Ukraine and switch to the Russian army," Mamchur said in a televised interview shortly after his release. "Then they applied psychological pressure, they didn't let me sleep, banging with their rifle-butts on the door." Mamchur is now heading to a hero's welcome in the capital, Kiev. As a pilot and instructor on the MiG-29, a fourth-generation jet fighter that can fly at over twice the speed of sound, Mamchur was a clearly a "top gun" among Ukrainian Air Force aviators, said Thomas Newdick, a Western air power analyst. At Belbek, Mamchur would have had in important role in preparing cadets and young flyers for combat duty, Newdick said. For Mamchur, the saga of resistance began in early March when troops under orders from Moscow swarmed into Crimea. Ukraine's inexperienced government dithered over a response, uncertain over whether to order Ukrainian forces to evacuate Belbek in the wine country north of Sevastopol. So Mamchur stuck to his ground whenever the Russians came calling to tell him to leave. "If there is an order, I will leave. If there is no order, I will stay," he told the man in the raincoat who demanded last week that Belbek stand down. During the ordeal, the colonel gave reporters and TV crews the run of the base grounds still in Ukrainian hands, and held impromptu news conferences in front of brigade headquarters. Any hungry journalists were welcome to join his men for borscht and kasha in the mess hall, the colonel said. Displaying a sense of cool under pressure as the inevitable storming of his base neared, Mamchur oversaw an impromptu wedding between two lieutenants — medic Galina Volosyanchik and communications officer Ivan Benera. As the couple were handed a gift and bouquet of flowers, Mamchur said: "You will always remember this, the whole world is here watching." Hours later, armed pro-Russia forces smashed into and took control of the base. The colonel's arrest provoked helpless outrage in Kiev. But any fear that Mamchur would defect to the other side proved unfounded. On Wednesday afternoon, acting Crimean Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchinov announced that officers detained by Russian troops were being released. Mamchur was given the time to gather his belongings from home, bid farewell to his wife, and leave the peninsula. Like all military spouses left behind by retreating troops, Larissa Mamchur will be reunited with her husband once new accommodation is found for them. If Mamchur was fazed by his ordeal, he showed no sign of it. "I feel good. I am in a fighting mood," he told reporters during his TV appearance. "What will I do now? First I will build up my strength and then I will make a decision. Glory to Ukraine!"
^ It's nice to hear these kind of stories. They show that not everyone in Russian-occupied Ukraine has given in and are sticking to their moral obligations. ^

Pay Per Bag

From Newsday:
"10-cent grocery bag fee proposed in New York City"

New York City grocery shoppers may soon face a 10-cent fee on all plastic and paper bags, enlisting the nation's largest city in a growing green movement.  The City Council introduced a bill Wednesday that would impose the fee in an effort to spur customers to bring their own reusable bags. Supporters of the bill say it would benefit the city's economy as well as its environment. The measure is expected to be voted upon within the next few weeks. If it passes, New York will join such cities as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington to try to curb the use of plastic bags. The 10-cent fee would not be a tax. Instead, the money raised from the bag sales would benefit the store owners who supplied the bags. Though grocery stores supply the vast majority of the disposable bags used across the city, the fee would also apply to bags sold at other retail stores. It would not apply to restaurant deliveries or most street food carts. The fee would also not be charged to shoppers who use public-assistance programs to buy food. Some business owners have complained that the fee could keep shoppers away. A similar measure was introduced last summer but failed to gather the necessary support and therefore had to be re-introduced in front of the new council, which took office in January. Nineteen councilmembers are co-sponsoring the new bill, seven short of the votes needed to pass it.

^ This is so stupid. It would be one thing if the 10 cents a bag went to the city of NYC to cover the clean-up costs of the bags, but instead it is only going to the stores (they will make more money and the city will continue to pay to clean-up the bags.) Also, this would only apply to grocery and retail stores and no where else that uses bags. I also don't like the clause that those on public assistance wouldn't be charged for the bags. If NYC really cared about the environment, as they claim, then they would make every place and everyone in the city pay to use them. Right now it seems they are only trying to make more money for businesses and could care less about the environment. It is a sad fact that we are moving closer to other countries that make you pay for everyday things. I remember when I lived and then travelled in Europe and you had to pay extra for: bags, ketchup and drink refills. The US is not only the land of the free, but also the land of free bags, ketchup and refills! I don't want to see that change. ^

Down And Low

From Yahoo:
"Poll: Ukraine crisis hurts Obama approval ratings"

Foreign policy used to stand out as a not-so-bleak spot in the public's waning assessment of Barack Obama. Not anymore. He's getting low marks for handling Russia's swoop into Ukraine, and more Americans than ever disapprove of the way Obama is doing his job, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. Despite the poor performance reviews, Obama's primary tactic so far — imposing economic sanctions on key Russians — has strong backing. Close to 9 out of 10 Americans support sanctions as a response to Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, the poll indicates. About half of that group says the U.S. sanctions so far are about right, while the other half wants to see them strengthened, the AP-GfK poll found. Most Democrats say the sanctions were OK, while a majority of Republicans find them too weak. "We're supposed to be a country that helps smaller countries in need," said Christopher Ashby, 29, a Republican in Albemarle, N.C., who wants a more powerful response. "Ukraine at this time is definitely in need." Ashby, a stay-at-home dad caring for three young daughters, said, "When I look at Obama, I see my 5-year-old daughter looking at something that just happened and saying, 'What do I do?'" Overall disapproval of the job Obama is doing ticked up to 59 percent — a record high for his presidency — in the poll released Wednesday. That's still well below the 72 percent disapproval rate that former President George W. Bush recorded in the AP-GfK poll in October 2008. Still, Obama's 41 percent approval rating is a sobering number for fellow Democrats running in this fall's House and Senate elections. Americans are now divided over which party they would rather see in control of Congress. Democrats held a slight edge over Republicans in the January AP-GfK poll. Obama gets lowest marks for his handling of the federal budget, immigration and the economy. Support for Obama's education policies, which had been a strong point, dipped into negative territory this month, too. Republicans have long criticized the president as too weak in asserting American power abroad. Yet until now, foreign policy hasn't been a drag on Obama's second term: Americans were about as likely to endorse his actions as to disapprove. Now he's hit a new low on international relations — just 40 percent approval.  The idea of lending any type of military support to Ukraine is unpopular, the poll says. Obama has said there are no plans to use military force to dislodge Russia from the Crimean Peninsula. Richard Johnson, a politically independent retiree in Redmond, Wash., said the United States shouldn't have gotten involved at all, especially since many Crimean residents favor Russia.
^ It seems the "day dream" that many people had with Obama is ending and Americans are starting to finally wake up and see the truth. Not only can't he handle international situations (which is a main-stay for any US President) but he also doesn't have a handle on domestic issues (ie "Obama gets lowest marks for his handling of the federal budget, immigration and the economy. Support for Obama's education policies, which had been a strong point, dipped into negative territory this month, too.") I will add his Obamacare is a hot mess as well since no one from the top-down seems to have a clue what is going on. I understand that you can't focus on everything as President, but he doesn't seem able to focus on anything other than going on constant vacations. He is all talk with no real substance. If something goes wrong he constantly blames someone else rather than "putting his big boy pants on" (as Judge Milian always says on The People's Court" and accepting that the buck stops with him. The only good thing is that in 2016 he will be out of office and hopefully we will have someone (Republican or Democrat) come in that will work to fix the mess he has created in the past 8 years. The fact that no one had heard of him before he ran for President the first time should have been a clue to people, but they seemed to not care. They wanted a "Yes We Can!" hope that, so far, has turned into a "Yes, We Can, But No I Can't!" ^

Controlled Internet

From  the DW:
"We're heading for a decentralized Internet, but will we get there by 2015?"

It was all talk in Singapore. But with the US withdrawing from ICANN, the body that governs the Internet, in 2015, doubt is rife. The world's digital community may not get a new "world stewardship" model in time. It was hardly a surprise. People had been calling for it for ages. But when the US Department of Commerce finally announced it was planning to relinquish control of a vital part of ICANN - and with it, the Internet - by October 2015, the chatter really began. The announcement has "electrified" this week's ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore. "We're in a situation where the announcement was only made last week so we're into an interesting period of reflection," says Nigel Hickson, ICANN's vice president for global stakeholder engagement in Europe. Hickson, who was at the meeting in Singapore, along with 2,000 other delegates, including academics, lawyers, business people, members of civil society and governments, says the timing of the US announcement is important. But he also refers to the plans as a "proposed transition," which clearly hints at the mammoth task ahead. This is not only about "names and numbers" - it's time to talk about the future of the global governance of the Internet. "Someone or something has got to run the Domain Name System (DNS)," says Hickson. "And if you're going to have a single open Internet, rather than lots of fragmented internets, you need a technical infrastructure that is managed in a way that it remains open."

So what's at stake:
Specifically, the US is giving up its control of the IANA function. This involves the allocation of unique names and numbers for use in Internet protocols - domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. IANA falls under ICANN's remit. A non-profit organization, ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. It takes care of Internet databases, it doles out generic Top Level Domain names [gTLDs], such as .com, .org, .berlin and .africa, and effectively governs the Internet under a contract with the US Department of Commerce. If ICANN sounds like the sort of organization that is just too boring to know, think again. It's said that, while it's never made use of this power, the US could, through its control of ICANN, make a website nameless and therefore make it disappear. It's the sort of thing you might hear about under dictatorships - that is, if the Web became a fragmented grouping of separate internets. But there are no known cases of the US ever having done this, and so it is seen as an arbiter and protector of the free Internet. "There are some governments that would frankly like to control the Internet, so that you or I, or the people in that country, don't get to see everything they'd like to see," says Ryan Heath, spokesman for Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission responsible for Europe's Digital Agenda.  Some countries, often led by China and Russia, have pushed for the Domain Name System to become part of the United Nations' remit. They argue this on the basis of ensuring a country's "sovereignty" on the Net. But it's not the sort of model that the European Union wants to see. "No, definitely not," says Heath. "What we need is a decentralized system, where all countries and all people who use the Internet, can have a stake in how that's run. We're not saying that governments have no role in how the Internet is run, but the Internet grew as a space for democracy and freedom, and those values will need to be respected in future models of Internet governance."

Real-time planning:
There's no doubt that it will be difficult to design a new model for Internet governance, which includes government interests (but at arm's length), and incorporates business, social concerns and civil liberties for all of the world's Internet users - but that's the aim. It is time, as ICANN's CEO Fadi Chehadé puts it, to move from a single state stewardship to a world stewardship. "When ICANN was established, the United States had nearly 90 percent of the world's Internet users. Now it has 13 percent of the world's Internet users. So you can't have one country having 95 percent of the control anymore," agrees Heath.  The question is whether it will happen in time for the transfer. "[The US] has strictly ruled out any single government, or group of governments, or a multinational government-led organization being in charge," says Dr Jörg Schweiger, CEO of DENIC, which administers Germany's own TLD .de. "So this is really the tough part," says Schweiger, who was also at the Singapore meeting, "and this is why we are at first talking 'meta' before we talk about a concrete model to be designed by 2015. But if it doesn't happen in time, there may well be another assignment of the existing contract to the existing organization." ICANN's Nigel Hickson makes the same concession. "I think there's a degree of confidence that we'll have some sort of model by 2015," Hickson says, "and of course 2015 is not a hard-and-fast deadline, the current IANA contract finishes in 2015, but it can be extended." Heath shares Hickson's confidence in a positive outcome, but he rejects the idea that this may be, as some have hoped, Europe's opportunity to step into the US's big boots. "We have a series of conferences between now and then. And if they go well, then we will meet the deadline," says Heath. "And it is possible to have a system where governments are one of many voices in Internet governance - that's the system we've got now. The difference between now and hopefully 2016, is that instead of it being one government having a voice, everybody can have a voice."  Following the ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore, which ends this Thursday (27.03.2014), the next conference is NETmundial in Brazil and an Internet governance forum in September. But don't hold your breath for an early outcome.

 ^ I'm sure that many people had no idea about any of this. I knew a little (ie that the US controlled the domain name registry) but didn't know that the US was giving up that control next year. It all seems like one big hot mess that won't ever be really, effectively controlled. ^

Hot Spots?

From the BBC:
"Russian-majority areas watch Moscow's post-Crimea moves"

Moscow originally said it was intervening in Crimea because of concern over the ill-treatment of Russians there - they make up more than half the population. So could the same happen in other parts of the former Soviet Union? 

Eastern Ukraine:
Ever since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, there have been frequent pro-Russian demonstrations in Donetsk and other cities in eastern Ukraine. At least one person has been killed.  Russia has blamed far-right pro-Western demonstrators for escalating tensions there. Russian troops have staged military exercises near the border and remain in the area. It would not be difficult for them to move across into Ukraine itself. If Russia is considering more territorial expansion, eastern Ukraine would be high on the list.  The political costs, however, could be high: Nato and Western leaders have warned against further expansionism. Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954. Ukraine's eastern border goes back much further. However, once the separatist genie is out of the bottle, it is hard to put back in. There is even a mock campaign for Donetsk to become part of the UK - the city was founded by a Welsh industrialist, John Hughes, in the 19th Century.line break   
Attention has also focused on Trans-Dniester, a separatist region of Moldova that has already offered itself to Moscow. It proclaimed independence in 1990, but has never been recognised internationally. Trans-Dniester is majority Russian-speaking while most Moldovans speak Romanian There is also the southern pocket known as Gagauzia, an autonomous region of Moldova made up of four enclaves (population 160,000). The Gagauz are Turkic-speaking Orthodox Christians. In February 2014, Gagauzia held a referendum in which 98.4% of voters backed integration with a Russia-led customs union. The Moldovan government said the referendum was illegitimate.  Nato's commander in Europe warned Trans-Dniester could be Russia's next target. It already has 1,000 troops in the region, which borders Ukraine, near the city of Odessa..Moldova is preparing to sign an association agreement with the EU, upping the diplomatic stakes if Russia did decide to annex Trans-Dniester.

In 2008, Russia fought a brief war in Georgia that ended with the breakaway of two areas, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Although Moscow's stated aim was to protect Russian speakers, most residents are native speakers of Ossetian and Abkhaz respectively. However, many hold Russian passports and they are opposed to the Georgian government in Tbilisi.  Abkhazia had already declared independence unilaterally in 1999.  Since then, the two enclaves have existed in a kind of grey zone - not recognised internationally, but not formally part of Russia.  Abkhazia shares a border with Russia - not far from Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Security was tightened for the Games. South Ossetia borders the Russian Federation at North Ossetia. All goods must come in via a tunnel under the Caucasus mountain range. Prices are high. Unemployment and corruption are widespread.

 Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia:
Russians account for about a third of the population in both Latvia and Estonia. The Baltic republics regained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.  Both Latvia and Estonia require knowledge of their languages for citizenship. Some Russian speakers born in the countries are either unable or unwilling to become citizens as a result.  Many Russian speakers complain of discrimination, saying strict language laws make it hard to get jobs.  In Lithuania, ethnic Russians make up about 5% of the population and there is no requirement for them to pass a language test.  In mid-March, the Kremlin expressed "outrage" at the treatment of ethnic Russians in Estonia - the same reason it gave for intervening in Crimea.  However, the Baltic states are members of both the EU and Nato. Any Russian incursion would have serious consequences. Article 5 of the Nato treaty says that an attack on one member state is an attack on all.

Northern Kazakhstan:
Russians account for more than half the population in northern Kazakhstan which, like Crimea, was once a part of Russia itself. Ties between the two go back to tsarist times, when northern cities such as Pavlodar and Uralsk were founded by the Russians as military outposts.  Like Ukraine, Kazakhstan signed an agreement on nuclear disarmament in 1994 in exchange for protection. It has no port like Sevastopol in Crimea, but it does have the Baikonur space facility.  However, Kazakhstan already has close ties with Russia - it is one of two other members (along with Belarus) of Moscow's customs union.  Kazakhstan is remaining officially neutral in the matter of Ukraine, but has called for a peaceful resolution.

The other Central Asian republics:
The percentage of ethnic Russians in central Asia ranges from 1.1% in Tajikistan to 12.5% in Kyrgyzstan. After independence in 1991, large numbers of Russians emigrated. However, the Central Asian economies remain tied to Russia - both in terms of trade and remittances from migrants working there.  It seems unlikely that Moscow would seek to intervene in the region. However, the post-Crimea turmoil could still have an effect, as the rouble falls and sanctions hit Russian businesses. Jobless migrants returning from Russia could cause trouble for the governments in Dushanbe or Bishkek.

Armenia and Azerbaijan:
Armenia has no Russian population to speak of, and Azerbaijan has just 1%. Both countries tread a geopolitical tightrope between Russia and the West.  Like Ukraine, Armenia had been preparing to sign an association agreement with the EU. But in September, it announced it would be joining the Russian-led customs union instead.  Since Armenian independence in 1991, Russia has retained a military base at Gyumri.  Azerbaijan exports oil and natural gas to the EU and is less economically dependent. A pipeline that ends in Turkey allows it to skirt Russian territory.  Russia would like to keep both countries in its sphere of influence, but it is likely to use economic, rather than military, measures. line break   
Belarus is already closely aligned with Moscow. Although about 8.3% of the population identify as Russian, more than 70% speak the language.  There is no reason why Russia would seek to intervene: the two governments could not be any closer. Belarus is in an economic union with Russia, and Russian is an official language.
^ This seems to break down the issue for each former Soviet Republic better than simple numbers could. ^