Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Russian DNA

From the MT:
"Agency Proposes Taking DNA Samples From Foreigners"

The Federal Migration Service has proposed taking DNA samples from foreign workers coming to Russia, Konstantin Romodanovsky, head of the service, said Tuesday at a meeting of the Federation Council. He also said that the agency had received more than 3 million sets of fingerprints from foreign workers in 2013 and  700,000 since the beginning of this year, RIA Novosti reported.
Mandatory fingerprints for immigrant workers were introduced in January 2013, and the migration service recently announced plans to expand the program to workers' family members aged 12 or older. Russian citizens' passports for foreign travel with fingerprint data were also tested by the FMS in major cities during 2013 and will be issued on a mass scale for those looking to cross their countries' borders. Romodanovsky said that last year about 17.7 million foreigners visited Russia, with about three quarters coming from Commonwealth of Independent States countries and 13 percent coming from the European Union. The number of foreigners visiting Russia has climbed 40 percent in the last four years, he said. The DNA sample proposal comes amid other restrictions largely aimed at immigrant workers from Central Asia, such as a recently passed law requiring residency applicants to prove their knowledge of Russian history, Russian language and the fundamentals of Russian law, though exceptions will be made for highly qualified specialists, their families and students. Romodanovsky said Tuesday that 10.9 million foreign citizens are currently in Russia, including tourists and students.

^ I'm not sure how Russia is collecting these DNA samples. It is one thing to get your finger prints taken (I'm sure they still use ink and not the inkless method) and another for DNA. Although I don't agree with the EU or any country/organization that keeps large databases of their citizens' fingerprints and other data when those citizens haven't done a crime. I'm glad Canada and the US don't do that. Russia isn't known for using the most hygienic means to collect samples of any kind. I know many Russians who say that when they get stopped by the GAI (the Russian traffic police - I know the acronym is funny considering Russia's anti-homosexual laws) and rather than give a blood sample by a dirty needle or blowing into a dirty breathalyzer simply give the GAI police a bribe and go on their way. I would be cautious to give anything (ie blood, saliva, etc) to anyone - official or not - if the device used was dirty. I don't have an issue with the Russians making people who want to come work and live in Russia to prove they know Russian history, (although there is a difference to what a Russian learns of their own history - especially the Soviet and post Soviet times - and what the rest of the world learns) Russian law and Russian language. ^

Nazi Memorial

From Yahoo:
"Hungary statue plans scorned at Holocaust memorial"

Speakers at an event Sunday commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary called for dialogue with the government, condemning its plans for a disputed memorial to Nazi Germany's 1944 occupation. Thousands took part in Sunday's "March Of The Living" remembrance walk, which was held for the 12th time in Budapest, the Hungarian capital. Over the past several months, Hungarian Jewish groups have expressed their frustration at what they say are efforts by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government to diminish the role local authorities had in the death of around 550,000 Hungarian Jews in the Holocaust. Government officials have said repeatedly, also recently, that Hungarians were both perpetrators and victims of the Holocaust. President Janos Ader said Auschwitz, where a third of those killed in the death camp were Hungarian Jews, "forms part of Hungarian history." Still, most of the reproach has been centered around a monument planned to be placed on the south side of Freedom Square, at the opposite end of a Soviet war memorial. The structure is set to show the figure of Germany's imperial eagle swooping down on the archangel Gabriel, symbolizing Hungary.  Hungary was on Germany's side during the war, but Germany invaded after Adolf Hitler became suspicious that Hungary was looking for a way out and reach a peace deal with the Allied forces. In a February letter to the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, Orban promised to hold talks about the statue after Easter and pushed back the planned unveiling of the work from March 19 to the end of May. However, two of days after Orban's Fidesz party won its second consecutive landslide victory in parliamentary elections on April 6, crews began readying the foundations of the monument. Activists have repeatedly dismantled the fence guarding the construction area, but work has continued. "We would like to believe that all is not lost and that there is room for dialogue," said Gabor Gordon, an organizer of the march. "The memorial is unacceptable to us in its known form." His words were echoed by other speakers at the "March of the Living," including Douglas Davidson, the U.S. State Department's special envoy for Holocaust issues, who called for "constructive engagement" on the disputed issues, and Chief Rabbi Peter Kardos, an Auschwitz survivor. "We want to live in a country where a memorial which falsifies history cannot be built," Kardos said, drawing sustained applause from the crowd.

^ No country that allied itself with Nazi Germany (ie Austria, Finland, Hungary, France, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Japan, etc) should be proud of their part in either World War 2 or the Holocaust. Even countries that didn't "officially" collaborate with the Nazis still aided them (ie the train companies, police, mayors, etc.) They are all just as guilty of helping to discriminate and murder the Jews, Gypsies, Soviet POWs, homosexuals, Freemasons, Jehovah's Witnesses, ant-German/anti-Nazis resistance groups as the Germans themselves. There should never be a memorial glorifying those acts in their dark past. Instead, there should be memorials to the victims, apologies and compensation. ^

Poor Ratings

From Yahoo:
"Public Preference for a GOP Congress Marks a New Low in Obama's Approval"

Weary of waiting for an economic recovery worth its name, a frustrated American public has sent Barack Obama's job approval rating to a career low - with a majority in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll favoring a Republican Congress to act as a check on his policies. Registered voters by 53-39 percent in the national survey say they'd rather see the Republicans in control of Congress as a counterbalance to Obama's policies than a Democratic-led Congress to help support him. It was similar in fall 2010, when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and gained six Senate seats. Obama's job approval rating, after a slight winter rebound, has lost 5 points among all adults since March, to 41 percent, the lowest of his presidency by a single point. Fifty-two percent disapprove, with "strong" disapproval exceeding strong approval by 17 percentage points. He's lost ground in particular among some of his core support groups.
Economic discontent remains the driving element in political views in this survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. Americans rate the condition of the economy negatively by 71-29 percent - the least bad since November 2007, but still dismal by any measure. Only 28 percent think the economy's improving, down by 9 points since just before Obama won his second term. He gets just 42 percent approval for handling it. Economic views are strongly related to political preferences. Among people who see the economy improving, 65 percent prefer Democratic control of Congress, while among those who see the economy as stagnant or worsening, 62 percent favor Republican control. Notably, economic views are linked with preferences for control of Congress regardless of people's partisan affiliation. The results suggest the corrosive effects of the long downturn on the president's popularity: Among those who say the economy is in bad shape, Obama's overall approval rating has lost 20 points since February 2012, from 46 percent then to 26 percent now. The president faces other challenges. While he's hailed insurance exchange sign-ups as a marker of the Affordable Care Act's success, the program and his rating for handling it have lost ground, both down from their levels late last month after the website was stabilized. The law gets 44 percent support, down 5 points; Obama has just 37 percent approval for its implementation, down 7. One reason is that the law seems to have opened an avenue for public ire about health care costs to be directed at the administration. Six in 10 blame the ACA for increasing costs nationally, and 47 percent think it's caused their own health care expenses to rise. Regardless of whether or how much those costs would have risen otherwise, Obamacare is taking a heavy dose of the blame. Separately, a current issue on the world stage offers no respite for Obama: Given continued tensions over Ukraine, just 34 percent of Americans approve of how he's handling that situation, 8 points fewer than early last month. Forty-six percent disapprove, with two in 10 withholding judgment. With these and other problems - but chiefly the economy - the public by more than 2-1, 66-30 percent, says the country's headed seriously off on the wrong track. That's about where it's been lately, and more negative than a year ago.  General anti-incumbency results: Just 22 percent of Americans say they're inclined to re-elect their representative in Congress, unchanged from last month as the fewest in ABC/Post polls dating back 25 years. Another outcome is risk for the president's party, in punishment for his handling of the helm. A single point divides Democratic and Republican candidates for the House in preference among registered voters, 45-44 percent. Among those who say they're certain to vote (with Republicans more apt to show up in midterms), that goes to 44-49 percent. Independents, a sometimes swing-voting group, favor Republican House candidates by 55-32 percent (among those who say they're certain to vote). And, as with views on control of Congress, perceptions of the economy correlate with congressional vote preference, regardless of partisanship. None of this means the GOP is home free. A robust improvement in the economy could change the equation. (As many, at least, say it's currently holding steady, 35 percent, as think it's getting worse, 36 percent.) And even as the brunt of economic unhappiness falls on the president, the public divides essentially evenly on which party they trust more to handle the economy - suggesting that the Republicans have yet to present a broadly appealing alternative. The Republicans have a 9-point advantage in trust to handle the federal deficit - an improvement for the party from last month. Similarly, Americans by a 7-point margin trust the Republicans over Obama to find the right mix of spending to cut and federal programs to maintain. The president had an 11-point lead on that question just after the partial government shutdown last fall.

^ The trend of Obama's poor performance and credibility continues to go down. Unfortunately, we still have to deal with him and all the problems he creates for a few more years. Hopefully, the American public remembers what he has done for the country (ie made us worse off at home and abroad) when they vote. ^

Stepping Stones

From the JP:
"Cobblestones to remember murdered Jews multiply in Berlin"

Veronika Houboi watched as a man in a cowboy hat and clogs wielded a sledge hammer to smash up and remove a dozen small cobblestones from a Berlin pavement. He quickly filled the resulting hole with two identical blocks of concrete capped with inscribed square brass plates. The blocks, called "Stolpersteine" or "stumbling blocks," read: "Here lived Dr. Erich Blumenthal, born 1883, deported 29.11.1942, murdered in Auschwitz. Here lived Helene Blumenthal, born 1888, deported 29.11.1942, murdered in Auschwitz." In Berlin, the blocks have become part of the fabric of the city, their plates glinting amid the grey paving on residential streets and stopping both locals and tourists in their tracks. Houboi and her husband sponsored the Blumenthals' blocks, traveling across Germany to see them laid in the northeast Berlin neighborhood where Houboi, now 71, grew up in the 1940s. As a child, she had been moved by a story about the family's local doctor, who had defied Nazi laws banning Jewish medics from treating non-Jews to care for her critically ill brother. Unable to find the name of that doctor, Houboi decided to symbolically honor him by commissioning blocks for another local Jewish doctor, Dr. Blumenthal, and his wife. The man behind the stumbling blocks is Cologne-based artist Gunter Demnig, who in 1996 illegally laid the first 41 in the Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg, having found the names in a local history book about the area's Jewish population. Three months later, the city granted Demnig permission to legally proceed with the project. Today there are 45,000 "Stolpersteine" in Germany and 16 other European countries. Berlin alone has 5,500 of them.
After working on an art project commemorating the Nazi deportation of Cologne's Sinti and Roma itinerants, Demnig became determined to show how victims of the Holocaust had been an integral part of German and European society before the war. "The idea was to bring back the names (of the deported) in front of the houses where they had lived," Demnig said. He added that Germans today had a greater desire to remember the atrocities of the Holocaust than when he was a child. "In my school, history stopped with the Weimar Republic, because the teacher wasn't interested ... but now young people really want to know," said Demnig, who was born in 1947. Demand for the stones has been steadily rising in recent years, as the project has become better known abroad. Demnig's team installs on average 5,000 to 6,000 stumbling blocks a year across Europe, the majority of them in Berlin. The stones are commissioned based on requests by relatives of victims or by neighbors present and past, like Houboi. At 120 euros ($170) a stumbling block, Demnig's business is booming. Customers often have to wait up to a year, he said. Demnig denies accusations he is profiting from the enterprise. "One cannot say it's a business. It's a piece of art ... Artists have to live from their work," Demnig said. The project is largely privately financed. In Berlin, an independent coordinating agency funded by the city works with volunteer groups and museums to field requests and do historical research on victims like the Blumenthals. Also at the installation with Houboi was Colonel Erez Katz, the Israeli defense attache to Germany and Austria. Katz has been moved by Demnig's work and planned to spend the day with the artist as he installed stones at 12 different Berlin sites.
Katz said he took every Israeli military delegation that visits Germany to view the stumbling blocks.
"How German people remember the Holocaust surprised and impressed me. Every street has these stones. They take responsibility," Katz said.
^ On the one hand I think these are good ways to give the Holocaust victims a name and story and to make them public, but on the other I don't like the idea of Germans (or anyone) walking over these memorials everyday. I also don't see how they are so expensive. I guess the idea of keeping the Holocaust "alive" wins out over anything else. ^

Children's Chores

From the BBC:
"Spain: Children 'must do housework' under draft law"

Spanish children may soon be required to help out with housework, under a draft law that has been approved by parliament. The measure, which would be part of a wider child protection law, says that children under the age of 18 have an obligation to participate in all areas of family life. That includes "co-responsibility in caring for the home and performing household tasks regardless of age and gender", the ABC newspaper says. The rules come under a section of the law called "the rights and duties of children". Along with doing chores, children would also have to be respectful to their parents and teachers, and have a positive attitude towards learning. But the bill doesn't say anything about penalties for children who refuse to go along, the Local website reports. Other elements of the bill would see the establishment of a list of people who are banned from working with children, and it would become a crime for people who work with children to fail to report possible abuses against them. Married Spanish men can also face legal sanctions for refusing to do housework - an update in 2005 to the marriage contract used for the country's civil ceremonies added a clause requiring men to share in household duties, and the care of children and elderly relatives.

^ It are stupid, useless laws that this that make people in Basque Country and Catalonia want their independence from Madrid. Doesn't Spain have anything more important to focus on like their crumbling economy (they have needed numerous bailouts from the EU), unemployment, etc than whether children and married men do their chores? ^

Torn Bulgaria

From the DW:
"Bulgaria: caught between Moscow and Brussels"

Bulgarians remain bound to Russia by alphabet, religion, and history. Although the southeastern European country with its 7.3 million inhabitants doesn't share a common border with Russia, it continues a long and complicated relationship with its "big brother." The crisis in Ukraine has given new impetus to the confrontation between Russophiles and Russophobes, which has a long history in Bulgaria. In the official Bulgarian version of history, Russia was the "liberator from the Turkish yoke," since Bulgarian statehood was reestablished after the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-88. But historian Plamen Tzvetkov sees this as a propaganda cliché uncritically repeated in history books and by the media. "Most Bulgarians don't even know that the peace treaty of 1878 had nothing to do with their 'liberation,'" Tzvetkov told DW. "Rather, it sealed the Russian army's long-term occupation of Bulgaria, and served to push through Russian power interests in the Bosphorus."  Bulgaria came under the Soviet sphere of influence after World War II, taking its place among other Eastern Bloc nations as a USSR-aligned communist regime until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
Public opinion in Bulgaria is deeply split on whether Russia was a liberator or an occupier. Gallup opinion poll researcher Parvan Simeonov says that the developments in Crimea have been equally controversial. Gallup's poll found that in answer to the question, "Which forces in Ukraine do you support: pro-European or pro-Russian?" 43 percent of Bulgarians were undecided, 30 percent supported EU orientation, while 27 percent supported orientation towards Russia. Although Bulgaria is a member of the European Union and officially supports the EU position on Ukraine, it is also dependent on Russian gas, and is being governed by a cabinet dominated by traditionally Russia-friendly socialists. But quiet - or loud - support for Putin goes beyond history and energy supplies. Many citizens of the EU's poorest member state have been disappointed by EU membership, and are almost gratified by the new hostilities between the Kremlin and Brussels.  Political scientist Daniel Smilov explained that the anti-European sentiment has coupled itself to Russophilia. "There's nothing reprehensible about a sense of closeness to Russia, in and of itself," Smilov said. "But it's surprising that not only socialists, but also Bulgarian national populists support the Putin regime." Alliances in today's Bulgarian politics are strange indeed: ex-communist socialists, Bulgarian nationalists, as well as steadfast anti-Europeans and anti-Americans make up a base of support for Putin - even though his policies threaten Bulgaria's security and have little to do with leftist ideology. This is an indication of Bulgarians' shifting political identities, cultural scientist Ivailo Ditschev thinks. "Bulgarian 'Russophiles' identify as leftist, yet at the same time support an empire that crushed revolution and liberation movements for 200 years," Ditschev said. "In Bulgaria, those who condemn Russia are considered 'right-oriented,' while Russia supporters are 'left-oriented' - it's idiotic," he said. Simeonov also believes domestic perceptions of left and right in Bulgaria are misleading when it comes to Russia. "It's really the old confrontation between East and West, which was never overcome in Bulgaria," he said. Pro-European and Russia-critical voices in the country point to how Moscow has for years treated Bulgaria as an exclave. Thousands of Russian citizens own property in Bulgaria, Russian lobbyists are very active in Bulgaria's economy and media, and it's feared that the old Eastern Bloc networks could experience a revival. Proponents of links to the West see Bulgaria's membership in the EU and NATO as indispensible. Now Bulgaria stands between West and East once again, being yanked back and forth between Moscow and Brussels. Where once Bulgarians pinned hope on EU membership, today many are disappointed. At the same time, observers doubt that the nation could fall back into Moscow's direct sphere of influence. And yet there is clearly an anti-European mood in the country - which is likely to surface again in the European elections in May.

^ I don't understand the Bulgarian-Russian relationship. Why would you "love" a country just because you share the same alphabet? France and Germany share the same alphabet and they have fought many wars against each other (the same with France and the UK.) There are countless other examples. The Bulgarians can't be too much in love with Russia since Bulgaria allied itself with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union during World War 2. Although, maybe they (the Bulgarians) were trying to make up for that mistake by being overly pro-USSR from 1945-1991. Bulgaria is now in an odd situation that it has to follow EU policy while at the same time trying to stay friends with Russia. ^

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Weather Fight

From MT:
"Moscow Ready to Use Cloud Clearing Techniques on Victory Day"

Moscow authorities could resort to cloud-seeding techniques in an effort to ensure blue skies on May 9 when the capital's residents traditionally flock to the streets to celebrate Victory Day, a senior meteorologist said Tuesday. Silver iodide, liquid nitrogen or cement particles can be released from planes into clouds, causing water molecules to coagulate and clouds to release their precipitation before they reach Moscow, meteorological center chief Roman Vilfand said at a press conference, Interfax reported. Vilfand said the technique worked in 50-60 percent of cases but would not guarantee clear skies in the event of a last-minute change in weather conditions such as a warm weather front arriving. Last year Moscow authorities said they would spend almost $4 million on "meteorological protection" for the city during the May holidays. Vilfand did not say how much would be spent this year. Vilfand said that "cloud dehydration" techniques do not present a threat to people's health or the environment. However, if a mishap from six years ago is anything to go by, people's property might be at risk. An attempt to guarantee a rainless Russia Day in 2008 went wrong when a 25 kilogram sack of cement that was dropped from a plane failed to pulverize, speeding down to earth in one piece and destroying a home in a Moscow suburb, according to Reuters. No one was injured as a result of the accident and the homeowner received 50,000 rubles ($1,400) in compensation, Interfax reported. Russia commonly uses cloud-seeding techniques to control weather conditions on the most important national holidays.   Similar practices were used in the 1980s when a weather-engineering program was designed to limit snowfall over Moscow, ecologist Valery Stasenko told the BBC. The program was later scrapped under then-President Mikhail Gorbachev due to budget cuts, Stasenko said.

^ This is nothing new as I have written about it before, but spending all this money to hope the weather is nice is a waste of time and money. ^

Russia Replies

From MT:
"Russia Prepares to Retaliate Against New Sanctions"

Russia has promised retaliatory measures against the "unfriendly attacks" by the E.U. and U.S. and voiced disappointment over new sanctions imposed by Japan, which it said were a result of pressure from the West.  Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich called Japan's decision to impose visa bans on 23 people a "clumsy step." "Tokyo's decision ... is viewed with disappointment and, naturally, will not go unanswered," Lukashevich said Tuesday in a statement.
"This clumsy step was clearly taken under outside pressure and goes against Tokyo's declarations about the importance of developing ... relations with Russia. We want to underscore: It is counterproductive to speak to us in the language of sanctions," he said. Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko also said Russia was working on a response to the expanded sanctions imposed by the U.S. and E.U. "After the second wave of sanctions, the government is developing measures in response, first evaluating the potential damage to our economy," she said, Interfax reported. "Such unfriendly attacks ... cannot be left without a response and I believe there must certainly be a response," she said. The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday called the EU sanctions a sign of European officials' ignorance regarding the situation in Ukraine.  "If someone in Brussels hopes to stabilize the situation in Ukraine this way, this is obvious evidence of full misinterpretation of the domestic political situation in that country and a direct invitation to local neo-Nazis to continue their outrage and lynch civilians in south-eastern Ukraine," the ministry said, Itar-Tass reported.   

^ Just as before I don't see any Russian sanctions (new or old) to really affect anyone or any country involved. The sanctions (new and old) from the US, Canada, EU and Japan will do more to affect both those on the list as well as the country itself although it is still just a "slap on the wrist." ^

CDN Sanctions

From MT:
"Canada Imposes Sanctions Against 2 Banks"

Canada has imposed sanctions on two small Russian banks and nine individuals, in light of the ongoing tensions in eastern Ukraine. The two banks are Expobank, listed last year as the 103rd biggest Russian bank by assets, and Rosenergobank, which in 2012 had income of $4.24 million and assets of $1.01 billion, according to Moody's Investors Service last year. "The illegal occupation of Ukraine continues and Russia's military aggression persists. That is why we are imposing sanctions against an additional nine individuals and two entities today," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday in a statement announcing the measures. "Until Russia clearly demonstrates its respect for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, Canada will continue to work with its allies and like-minded countries to apply pressure that will further isolate Russia economically and politically." The U.S. announced sanctions on17 companies and seven Russians . on Monday. Canada has brought sanctions against five men who featured on the U.S list, including Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Vyacheslav Volodin and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak.  Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the outspoken leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, and businessmen Arkady and Boris Rotenberg also feature on the Canadian sanctions list.

^ Here's Canadians list. ^

EU Sanctions

From the MT:
"EU Adds 15 to Sanctions List, Branded 'Shameful' by Russia"

The European Union has imposed asset freezes and travel bans on 15 Russians and Ukrainians over Moscow's action in Ukraine, including Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, but has steered clear of any sanctions on business leaders. The latest list, released Tuesday, also included Lyudmila Shvetsova, a deputy chairman of the State Duma, Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of Russia's armed forces, and separatist leaders in Ukraine. It did not include the heads of Russian energy giants such as Rosneft's Igor Sechin, who had been included on a new U.S. sanctions list on Monday. The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted negatively to the latest EU sanctions list, saying the union was following Washington's lead and should be ashamed of itself. "Instead of forcing the Kiev clique to sit at the table with southeastern Ukraine to negotiate the future structure of the country, our partners are doing Washington's bidding with new unfriendly gestures aimed at Russia," the ministry said. The EU has now imposed sanctions on 48 people for actions it says have undermined Ukraine's territorial integrity. Russia annexed the Crimea region after Ukraine's pro-Moscow president was ousted in February by protesters demanding closer links with Europe. Kiev and the West accuse Russia of stirring up a separatist campaign in the east, a charge Moscow denies.
The EU decision coincided with an earlier White House announcement that the U.S. was imposing sanctions on seven Russians and 17 companies linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. has been much more aggressive in the penalties it has imposed on Russia than the EU, which depends heavily on Russia for energy and has close trading links. The EU has so far only put sanctions on individuals, not companies. The European Commission is drawing up a list of tougher economic sanctions, possibly affecting trade or the energy or finance sectors, that could be imposed on Russia.

^ The US added new sanctions and the EU, Canada and Japan are following. ^

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Disabled Go Home"

From the Globe and Mail:
"Lack of funds pushes Ontario schools to send special education students home"

About half of Ontario’s school principals have asked parents to keep their child at home because they could not accommodate their special education needs, says a new report that sheds light on how budget constraints have affected students with learning disabilities. The findings, which were compiled by People for Education and based on a survey of about 1,300 school leaders from across Ontario, comes as the province adopts a new funding model that observers hope will alleviate some of the financial pressures in special education.  In the survey, released Monday, 49 per cent of elementary principals and 41 per cent of high-school principals said they have recommended to parents that children designated as having special education needs not attend a full day of school because of safety concerns, or because the necessary supports are not available for the entire time a student is in the building. This forces parents of special-needs students to find alternative arrangements, given that the province’s education act requires children attend school for a full day, unless they are ill. “We have made extraordinary progress in Ontario in our desire for full inclusion of all students. But …we still have farther to go, and principals are still being forced to make very difficult choices,” said Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education. “Ultimately it may come down to having to ask ourselves, how much are we willing to spend in order to ensure that all students are included? Hopefully the answer is that we will spend what it takes, because I’m not sure that we as a society think that principals should be having to make decisions like that.” Toronto mom Irene Kassies says she has been so frustrated getting the necessary supports for her 10-year-old daughter that she has opted for private tutoring. Her daughter has processing issues and, as a result, is academically delayed. “I was getting nothing, nothing in the school and I don’t want her falling further and further behind,” she said. Ms. Kassies described the special education supports in school as being “inconsistent.” Even though the province’s special education grant has grown from $1.09-billion in 2002 to $2.72-billion today, the budget is still stretched as the prevalence of various learning disabilities has climbed. Thousands of kids are on wait lists for assessments to determine whether they will receive supports ranging from educational assistants, special equipment to help with school work or extra time to complete tests in the classroom. But even after kids are assessed, resources are spread thin at many boards. Lauren Ramey, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Liz Sandals, said the province’s new funding model for high-needs students should help match resources with demand. Just over $1-billion in the special education budget goes to high-needs students, who have more serious learning issues and are generally students who are diagnostically assessed by the board and a psychologist. The report says that Ontario elementary schools have an average of one special education teacher for every 37 students with special needs, and one for every 74 students in high schools. Until now, the province gave school boards money based on historical information, which many argued was unfair and inaccurate. Under the new tool, boards will receive their high-needs allotment based a model that takes into account parental education, median income, unemployment, recent immigrants as well as standardized test scores, proportion of aboriginal students and existing percentage of students currently receiving special education services. The new model is being phased in over four years, and will result in some boards receiving less than in previous years. Among the winners is the Peel District School Board, which championed for the funding changes. The board was receiving $339 per student in its high-needs budget compared to $523 at the Toronto public board, despite its demographic changes. The board is one of the fastest growing in the province, and argued that it was receiving funding based on calculations made a decade prior. Louise Sirisko, Peel’s superintendent of special education, said that under the old formula, her district had to take as much as $14-million from other budgets to help with special education. About 14 per cent of Peel students are designated as having special education needs, and Ms. Sirisko said the new funding model will alleviate those financial pressures. She also said she was surprised with the report’s findings that principals send kids home for part of the day because the school can’t meet their needs. The report described it as a widespread practice. Ms. Sirisko said that while a small number of students are on a modified day calendar, most are required to remain in school. “It’s not the guidance that we give,” she said. “We are profoundly dedicated to support kids with needs. We can’t say ‘We’re not going to give you the support,’ and send them home. That would be contrary to what we think is our duty.”

^ If the schools in the Province of Ontario can't educate ALL the students then they should shut down and educate NONE of their students. There are laws that every child has a right to education and these principals are taking the "easy" way out by picking on a minority group that can't always stand-up for itself- the disabled. The Federal Government should get involved and fix the issue. If Ontario can't run it's schools for everyone then Ottawa should run it for them. ^

New Sanctions

From USA Today:
"U.S. imposes new sanctions on Russia"

President Obama announced Monday that the United States is levying a new round of sanctions against Russia in response to that country's actions in Ukraine, striking against individuals and companies close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Seven Russian government officials, including two members of Putin's inner circle, will be subject to an asset freeze and a U.S. visa ban, and 17 companies linked to Putin's inner circle will be subject to an asset freeze, according to a statement by White House press secretary Jay Carney. "The goal here is not to go after Mr. Putin personally," Obama said in Manila on Monday during a new conference. "The goal is to change his calculus with respect to how the current actions that he's engaging in could have an adverse impact on the Russian economy over the long haul." Igor Sechin, the president of the state-owned oil company Rosneft, and Sergei Chemezov, the head of the state-owned energy giant Gazprom, are among those with the highest profile being hit by the new sanctions, according to the Treasury Department. Other individuals hit by the sanctions include Oleg Belavantsev, Russia's presidential envoy to Crimea; Dmitry Kozak, a deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation; Evgeniy Murov, director of Russia's Federal Protective Service; Aleksei Pushkov, deputy of the state Duma; and Vyacheslav Volodin, first deputy chief of staff to Putin. The White House said it expects the European Union to announce its own new sanctions against Russia later Monday. The Department of Commerce is imposing additional restrictions on 13 of those companies by issuing a license requirement "with a presumption of denial for the export, re-export or other foreign transfer of U.S.-origin items to the companies." Commerce and the State Department also announced a tightened policy to deny export license applications for any high-technology items that could contribute to Russia's military capabilities. Those departments also will revoke any existing export licenses that meet these conditions. Among the entities being hit by the new licensing restrictions are Stroytransgaz Holding, located in Cyprus; Volga Group, located in Luxembourg and Russia; and Aquanika, Avia Group LLC, Avia Group Nord LLC, CJSC Zest, Sakhatrans LLC, Stroygazmontazh, Stroytransgaz Group, Stroytransgaz LLC, Stroytransgaz-M LLC, Stroytransgaz OJSC, and Transoil, all located in Russia.
In Washington, Democratic lawmakers welcomed the move, while GOP senators said that Obama didn't go far enough. "The administration's tepid, incremental sanctions are insufficient given Russia's continued occupation of Crimea and ongoing actions to fuel unrest in eastern Ukraine," said New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Putin will not be deterred until the U.S. takes swift action to impose sanctions now on Russia's financial sector – and authorizes more severe sanctions, such as on Russia's energy sector, that would go into effect should Putin take additional aggressive actions against Ukraine. The U.S. should also provide additional support to the Ukrainian military." Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. and a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, called the sanctions an "important step" but said ultimately Obama will have to hit key Russian business sectors for Putin to feel real pain. "Regrettably, it will likely be necessary to go further and sanction whole sectors of the Russian economy – their banking, mining, energy and arms industries among others," Schiff said.

^ While sanctions can be effective sometimes I don't see these new Russian ones as doing much to change things on the ground in the Ukraine. ^

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Saintly Popes

From Wikipedia:
"Canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II"

Pope John XXIII (25 November 1881 – 3 June 1963) and Pope John Paul II (18 May 1920 – 2 April 2005) reigned as popes of the Roman Catholic Church and the sovereigns of Vatican City (respectively from 1958 to 1963 and 1978 to 2005). Their canonizations were held on 27 April 2014.The decision to canonize was made official by Pope Francis on 5 July 2013 following the recognition of a miracle attributed to the intercession of John Paul II, while John XXIII was canonized for his merits of opening the Second Vatican Council. The date of the canonization was assigned on 30 September 2013. The Canonization Mass was celebrated by Pope Francis (with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI concelebrating), on Sunday 27 April 2014, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in Rome on the morning of Divine Mercy Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter and the end of the Octave of Easter (Pope John Paul had died on its vigil in 2005, on a different date). Up to 150 Cardinals and 1,000 Bishops were expected to concelebrate the Mass, and at least a million were expected to attend.

People present at the canonization:

98 delegations of States or international organizations 19 Heads of State and 24 Heads of Government

I wrote about this the other day, but since then I have read a lot about what Pope John XXIII did for the Church (both as Pope and before) and he seems along the same lines as Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. It did surprise me that the US sent some unknown advisor rather than the President, Vice-President or some member of Congress to an event for such great people. Regardless, the event has strengthen the Catholic Church and I hope the memory of these two great, modern Popes can help Pope Francis continue his work in the Vatican and around the world. ^

Deaf Church Closes

From the BBC:
"UK's only deaf church to close"

After 140 years of services in sign language, the UK's only purpose-built church for deaf people is up for sale. The St Saviour's foundation cornerstone was laid in 1870 on London's Oxford Street by the Prince of Wales and his wife Princess Alexandra, who had progressive hearing loss. The first service took place in 1873. Fifty years later the building was demolished to make way for development and the church relocated to Acton.  Fred Cuddeford is 105 years old. He was deafened a century ago in the same horse and cart accident that killed his mother. He has been a regular at St Saviour's Church and Deaf Centre for 94 years - in its old and new home.  For him and many other, St Saviour's has not only been a church, but a social club for deaf people. These were once very important places to meet, where sign language users were able to have conversations. Fred's son Freddie says that his father will miss out socially when the church has gone: "This is Dad's only outing." Fred met his first wife at St Saviour's, played various game tournaments and took his hearing children there to integrate them into the deaf community. Historian Mike Gulliver, who is researching the church's history, says the original church was built around a central hall so that everyone could see the preacher's hands as he was signing. "There was no rood screen, or choir, or organ," says Gulliver. "It was built more in the style of a non-Anglican, non-conformist church." There were also twin pulpits, one for a signing preacher and one to accommodate an interpreter for hearing visitors. While most hearing Anglican churches face east, St Saviour's Oxford Street faced north. This was for light reasons, says Gulliver. It was thought that a steady stream of light throughout the day was better for deaf people's communication. The current church is a simple but functional 1920s building, which hosts many of the original fittings and artwork.  At the St Saviour's 2014 Easter service, Fred Cuddeford, now also with failing sight, touches all 14 stations of the cross dotted around the church's perimeter - a tradition that commemorates Jesus's journey leading up to his crucifixion and burial.  The Reverend Anne Richardson, chaplain to all deaf Christians in London and the leader of the service, pushes her lectern along the route so she can sign the prayers and hymns at close range. Seated worshippers are able to follow the story via a series of images and the written English translation projected on to the wall.  Richardson is a hearing person but trained as a signer. "Older people were encouraged to speak English at school rather than sign, so they like the service to be interpreted word for word," she says.
"Younger deaf church-goers have grown up with British Sign Language as their main way of communicating and so are comfortable worshipping purely in BSL." During more evangelical-style worship, big screens show signed video versions of hymns and the speakers are turned up to high volume so those with the least hearing can feel the vibration. Gulliver says that the prominent church was a "shop window for the hearing world", so that the Anglican Church could show off what it was doing for the deaf community in a prestigious building. He says rich benefactors were invited to a special yearly service and encouraged to pay subscriptions to keep it running.  The original church was built to house 250 "deaf and dumb" worshippers. Seven deaf men, who were already preaching in BSL in lecture rooms, came up with the idea for a "church of our own" and a "cradle-to-grave deaf club", according to Gulliver. Lord Shaftesbury and William Gladstone were among the original fund contributors.  The church was upstairs but, downstairs, below street level, Gulliver says there was a "bubbling deaf club with 150 chairs and a gymnastics kit". He says the downstairs lecture room was a sanctuary for deaf people. Their art graced the walls and they often held their Thursday night church service in that space instead of in the church. The building was known by many as their cathedral.
Nowadays, St Saviour's church and club is used just once a month by a small group of deaf OAPs. At other times, it is hired out to hearing groups. The CEO of the Royal Association for Deaf People, Dr Jan Sheldon, says they need to sell. "Sadly we do not have the funds to meet the substantial repair costs associated with maintaining such old buildings."  The Rev Anne Richardson says deaf people are sanguine about it and that her group will find somewhere else to worship. "From a Christian perspective, the people are more important. Having a church is like a symbol but the wider deaf community hasn't made much use of it." Despite the dwindling congregation, Richardson says young deaf people do go to church. Some use interpreters to integrate with hearing congregations. Others hold BSL-only services in churches which the groups hire.  Richardson runs a "busy" deaf evangelical service at a hearing church in Enfield, which she says is quite different to the one at St Saviour's. "We don't follow the English liturgy. All the elements are there but we do it entirely in BSL. And we've got more deaf leaders there than at St Saviour's."

^ I never knew that there was a deaf church and it is really sad to see that it is closing. The way this church was built so that it would physically help the deaf is amazing. Sometimes it just takes something small to make a big difference. I just hope that with the closing the deaf (especially the elderly) stop going out in the world. ^

Yom HaShoah

From USA Today:
"Abbas calls Holocaust 'most heinous crime'"

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday called the Holocaust "the most heinous crime" of modern history and expressed his sympathy for the victims, a rare acknowledgment by an Arab leader of Jewish suffering during the Nazi genocide. Abbas' comments appeared, in part, aimed at reaching out to Israeli public opinion at a time of deep crisis in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. The remarks were published by the Palestinian official news agency WAFA just hours before the start of Israel's annual Holocaust commemoration. The decades-old conflict has been accompanied by mutual mistrust among Israelis and Palestinians about the other side's intentions. Many Israelis fear that the Palestinians aren't truly ready to accept a Jewish presence in the Holy Land, and that widespread ignorance or even denial of the Holocaust among Palestinians is an expression of that attitude.
Denials or attempts to minimize the Holocaust, which saw the systematic killing of 6 million Jews in World War II, are widespread in the Arab world. Many Palestinians fear that if they acknowledge the Holocaust, they will diminish their own claims based on years of suffering, including their uprooting during Israel's 1948 creation and decades under Israeli occupation. Abbas' office said he discussed the Holocaust in a meeting with an American rabbi, Marc Schneier, who visited Abbas' headquarters in Ramallah last week. Abbas told Schneier that "what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era," WAFA said in a statement in English published Sunday. The wording in an earlier WAFA statement in Arabic was slightly different, with Abbas using the phrase "ugliest crime" instead of "the most heinous crime."
In the English statement, WAFA quoted Abbas as expressing his "sympathy with the families of the victims and many other innocent people who were killed." Abbas said the Holocaust was an expression of the idea of ethnic discrimination and racism, and connected it to the Palestinian suffering of today. Abbas' statement came as the latest U.S. attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal was on the verge of collapse. At the start of negotiations in late July, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had set an end-of-April target date for a peace deal. He later lowered expectations, calling for the outlines of an agreement and, in a last attempt, for a deal on extending the talks.
However, none of Kerry's objectives appear within reach, since no progress has been made. Instead, the two sides have been bogged down in mutual accusations. Last week, Israel suspended negotiations in response to a reconciliation deal between Abbas and his political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas. At the time, Israeli leaders alleged Abbas preferred peace with the militants, who have called for Israel's destruction, to peace with Israel. Hamas has traditionally refrained from acknowledging the Holocaust and in 2009 protested against the subject being taught in United Nations-run schools in Gaza. Hamas and Israel are bitter enemies. Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in militant attacks and Israel routinely targets it in airstrikes and military operations. Speaking Sunday before a Cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu largely dismissed Abbas' statement. "Instead of making declarations intended to pacify world opinion, (Abbas) needs to choose between the agreement with Hamas, a terror group that calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and denies the Holocaust, and between true peace with Israel," Netanyahu said.

^ It would be nice if the Palestinians would stop calling for the destruction of Israel and the Jews. That is the biggest hindrance to the Peace Talks. No country in the world would could make peace with anyone who is out to destroy them and that has been Israel's stance since 1948. Egypt and Jordan were able to overcome their own anti-Israel/anti-Jewish thinking and make peace so I don't see why other Arab/Muslim states and the Palestinians can't do so too. If the Palestinians stopped attacking Israel with bombs, missiles, etc, stopped calling for Israel's destruction and stopped trying to play the sole victims of this conflict then I believe Israel would have to make peace with them. For 60+ years the Palestinians (and other Arabs/Muslims) have used the same strategy that clearly hasn't worked as Israel is stronger than ever. Maybe it's time to stop doing the same old thing that never has worked and never will work and try something new - peace. Today is Yom HaShoah in Israel (Holocaust Remembrance Day) so it doesn't surprise me that Abbas would mention the Holocaust in his speech today. Now he has to back his words with action (nonviolent action.) ^

Born Free SA

From the BBC:
"South Africa's 'born-free' generation"

South Africa's so-called "born-free" generation now accounts for some 40% of the population. Born since the country's first fully democratic elections in 1994, they have grown up without apartheid and the struggles of South Africa's older generation.  Here, six "born frees" talk about life growing up in the new South Africa.
Ballet dancer Thabang Mabaso grew up in Orange Farm, a poor township outside Johannesburg, before going to art school. There he started to train as a dancer and is now a professional dancer in the Johannesburg ballet company.  He gives ballet lessons in the townships and knows his life would have been very different under apartheid.If we hadn't gained democracy in 1994," he says, "I'd have been perhaps a gardener but definitely not a ballet dancer." He readily acknowledges that few blacks attend his performances and adds that there has been opposition to his chosen profession closer to home.  "My mum never saw my ballet as a proper job or career, she would always say: 'Oh you're going to go play ballet now?' However, Thabang believes that South Africa has the diversity and the potential to develop like the United States. "I think we have similar histories and I believe that South Africa definitely could become like America."

Trainee nurse Nisha Lutchman runs a small novelty cake business with her sisters.  She lives with her family in a semi-rural location just outside Walkerville, south of Johannesburg, where violent robberies are a constant source of fear. Their house has been robbed so often that the TV is now in a cage bolted to the wall. "I have heard from older people what it was like before 1994, how you had to carry your pass around with you to go to different areas but the crime was much less then," she says.
"I don't have freedom. I can't walk to the shops without taking off my jewellery. I passed my driving test but I have never driven on my own for security reasons," she says. "Many things about South Africa are better now. I can be friends with whoever I want, I don't have to worry about what race they are. But crime is much worse than before. I just want it to be a safer place."

Tyron Miller is an up-and-coming motocross rider competing in national events. When he is not competing, he works for his father's ophthalmology business. "I think for my parents' generation it was a really big change," he says of the end of white-minority rule.  "I am conscious that I am one of the first generation to be born free in South Africa but because of that I don't think about it," he says.
"I have only known this South Africa. I love it. No other country has the diversity that South Africa has. There is nowhere else I'd rather be."

Mahlatse Legodi was jailed for four months for stealing a mobile phone and now is determined to set his life on the right track.  Living in the Pretoria township of Atteridgeville, he says he fell in with a bad crowd. "I would hang around with my friends in the street and they would say: 'Do this,' and I would do it. I began stealing. There was no-one to say what was right or wrong." He credits his uncle, a former prisoner who now runs an NGO (non-governmental organisation) rehabilitating offenders, with inspiring him to complete his education and turn his life around. "My uncle has done a lot to help me realise what I can do if I go back to school. For me, freedom is the freedom to live a better life."

Khensani Khoza, aka Ms Candy K, is a radio DJ who presents a show on VOW FM, a university radio station in Johannesburg. A child of South Africa's new black middle class, she is a law student but has ambitions to become a star radio or TV presenter. "I don't want to imagine if 1994 hadn't happened, but I can imagine it: I would not have been able to go to university, to study law," she says. She believes the ANC government of the last 20 years should be given more time to make changes. "I am one of those people who believes in giving my government time. It is very easy to criticise but I think people should remain optimistic and hope they can deliver on their promises."

Chanelle Oliver is one of the top female skateboarders in South Africa. Also a student, she has studied ballet as a hobby. "I think the ballet helps with skateboarding, it's all about balance," she says. But the world of competitive skating is a male-dominated one that she discovered almost by accident. "A friend got me into playing skating games on the computer and then we started skating for real," she explains.  Chanelle says the skating community is close-knit and racially mixed,  "It's like a family. It's a small skating scene in South Africa and there's a sense of community, it's not really competitive like in some other countries."

^ It has been 20 years since the end of Apartheid in South Africa and it seems there are still struggles for both whites and blacks. While there are more freedoms for everyone there is also high unemployment, crime, cases of AIDS, etc. Not all these new problems can be blamed on Apartheid. Despite these problems it seems those born since 1994 have a positive view of South Africa and its future. ^

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Battle Of The Brave (2005)

This is a Canadian movie that was filmed in both French and English. It is called "Nouvelle-France" in French. It was filmed in the province of Quebec. It is based during the last days of New France (ie France's control of Quebec in the 18th Century) and the beginning of British rule. The film is loosely based on Marie-Josephte Corriveau who was found guilty, by a British court martial, of murdering her second husband, placed in a metal gibbet and hanged in 1763. The film goes beyond just this murder and looks at many issues: the role of France within Nouvelle-France and its willingness to give it up, the role of the Catholic Church within Quebec, the willingness of some French Canadians to switch alliances so easily once the British occupied Quebec and the whole social structure of Quebec with both the French and then then British.
Noémie Godin-Vigneau plays the main character, Marie-Loup Carignan, and does a great job portraying an independent woman in the 18th Century trying to live her own life while other forces (the Church, the French and then the British) vie for control around her. Juliette Gosselin plays her young daughter, France Carignan and also does a good job.  Gérard Depardieu plays the corrupt Father Thomas Blondeau who lies and schemes against both against Marie-Loup as well as the people of Quebec. David La Haye  plays François le Gardeur who is Marie-Loup's one true love and who not only fights for her, but also for New France.
This movie has many messages and makes you stop and think about what you would do if placed in the same situation. I like that it was filmed in Quebec with a mostly French-Canadian cast as it is their history and is not "corrupted" by French (from France) influence over how they want to be portrayed. I would like to see more movies like this about other periods of French-Canadian history.

Crimea: On The Ground

From the US State Department's Website:
"Crimeans Facing Russian-Style Repression, U.S. Diplomat Says"

Crimean Residents to Face Russian-Style Repressionby Tom Malinowski
One unfortunate effect — and perhaps intent — of the Russian government’s threats against eastern Ukraine has been to divert the world’s attention from the part of Ukraine it has already seized. On April 15, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on Crimea documenting what the Russian government has tried to hide by denying international monitors access to Crimea: the imprisonment, torture and killings of Crimean citizens who opposed Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula prior to the March referendum. The world is already familiar with some of the more horrific reports that have emerged in recent weeks, such as the discovery on March 18 of the body of Crimean Tatar activist Reshat Ametov two weeks after he had been abducted, bearing clear evidence of abuse. On March 25, Human Rights Watch reported that two Euromaidan activists in Crimea had been kidnapped and brutally tortured by Russian and local forces in secret facilities for 11 days. After spinning a fictitious tale of protecting members of the ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine, the Russian government and its proxies are subjecting members of ethnic minorities in Crimea to the very abuses they pretend to oppose. On March 31, pro-Russian thugs beat a 14-year-old Tatar boy for speaking Tatar in public. On March 18, Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Temirgaliyev announced that Tatars must give up their land to be used for other purposes. On March 15 and 16, pro-Russia thugs kidnapped Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests, interrogated them, and had local “authorities” charge some of them with “extremism.” Following anonymous death threats, the Chief Reform Rabbi of Crimea has fled. All told, international organizations report that around 5,000 people, including minority Christians, Jews and at least 3,000 Tatars, have fled Crimea and sought refuge elsewhere in Ukraine. If the Russian government begins to impose through its occupation and purported annexation of Crimea the repressive laws it is increasingly implementing in Russia, Crimean residents may experience surprising restrictions on the rights they once freely exercised. Among these are:

A Loss of Autonomy. Even as President Putin demands decentralization in Ukraine, he is abolishing it in Russia. A new bill in the Duma could cancel direct mayoral elections in Russia, stripping citizens of their ability to elect their local leaders.
Censorship and Propaganda. As has already been done within Russia, Russian authorities have tried to limit Crimean residents’ access to TV channels that are not Kremlin-controlled. From Russia’s Internet space, Crimean residents could find themselves unable to access certain independent news sites.
Criminalization of Dissent. The Russian government could attempt to subject Crimean residents who wish to express dissent to its arsenal of laws unduly restricting freedom of expression, including Russian-style prosecutions of journalists and activists for “extremism” and “hooliganism” simply for expressing independent views.
“Foreign Agent” Hysteria. Following the xenophobic trend encouraged by authorities in Russia, lists of local “traitors” and “foreign agents” have already begun to appear in Crimea. Crimean nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), like Russian ones, may find themselves subjected to a range of new, burdensome regulations, including the notorious Russian “Foreign Agents” NGO law. Many Crimean human rights defenders have already fled Crimea, and many of those who stayed are considering a principled stance to avoid taking on the false and stigmatizing label of “foreign agent.”
Limits on Freedom of Assembly. Recent Russian laws instituting harsh fines (over $9,000) for participating in peaceful unsanctioned protest, if imposed in Crimea, may have a chilling effect on public demonstrations. We’ve already seen evidence in Sevastopol: On April 15, the city banned an LGBT pride parade, citing Russia’s ban on LGBT “propaganda.”

Russia will continue to pay a high price if it continues to occupy Crimea. Sanctions imposed because of its actions in Crimea will remain so long as those actions continue. And we will increase these costs if Russia does not follow through on the commitments it made in Geneva on April 17 to de-escalate the crisis it has manufactured in eastern Ukraine. We will also continue to empower Ukraine to withstand Russian pressure and move towards a prosperous and democratic future. In recent days, the United States has signed a loan-guarantee agreement with Ukraine to unlock $1 billion in financing, which will help the Ukrainian government to provide critical services and protect vulnerable citizens as the government implements necessary economic reforms. We are providing additional assistance to support those reforms, as well as free and fair elections, anti-corruption initiatives, recovery of stolen assets, and helping Ukraine withstand politically motivated trade actions by Russia. As we look to what has happened in Crimea, and seek to diffuse tensions in eastern Ukraine, we are reminded what is at stake. This is not a dispute between different parts of Ukraine. It is a contest, as President Obama has said, between two competing ideals: “the belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose,” and an “older, more traditional view of power” which holds that “order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.” The desire to live in freedom, under a state that serves its citizens, not the other way around, is universal. Ukrainians don’t want to lose their freedom. Their fellow citizens in Crimea, and neighbors in Russia, deserve to reclaim it.

^ This gives good insight into what has happened inside Russian-occupied Crimea since it was added to the Russian Federation. I wonder just how many of the "pro-Russia" Crimeans would vote in favor of joining Russia if the vote was held today? ^

Dual Saints

From the BBC:
"Sainthood 'spectacular' draws faithful to the Vatican"

St Peter's Square this weekend becomes the stage for one of the most spectacular events ever celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church.  The Vatican will hold the simultaneous canonisation by Pope Francis of two 20th-Century popes, who led the transition of the world's oldest international organisation into the modern world - John XXIII and John Paul II.  The stresses and strains of bringing the Catholic Church up to date - amid accusations of clerical sexual scandal, a growing problem of recruiting new priests, the flight from the pews in Europe and North America, and the general shift of the Church towards the developing world - are still being worked out by Pope Francis. He will preside over a two-hour ceremony expected to attract more than 50 heads of state and government and more than a million faithful to the Church's hub - the tomb of the Apostle Peter, the first Pope.  For the first time in history, two living popes, Francis and former Pope Benedict, will be witnessing the raising to the altars of two of their dead predecessors.  The saint-making process is usually long and very costly, as it involves elaborate investigation of the lives of the men and women chosen for the future veneration of the world's Catholic believers.  In the early Church, saints were often chosen by popular acclaim. But over the centuries the Vatican has created a specific department to supervise the business of deciding who is to benefit from the posthumous ecclesiastical honours system.  Saint John Paul, who created more new saints and blesseds during his lifetime than any of his predecessors, has been fast-tracked to sainthood only nine years after his death. (The difference is that a saint is venerated by the worldwide church, while a blessed is venerated locally.)  The crowds that gathered as John Paul lay dying cried out "Santo subito!" (Make him a saint immediately!) 
Saint John, a hugely popular friendly and genial roly-poly priest-diplomat from a humble Italian peasant background, has gone down in history as "the Good Pope". He also was deeply mourned around the world when he died in 1963, but his promotion to full sainthood was decided suddenly and very recently by Pope Francis.  There was a political dimension to this. Many Catholics regret their Church's subsequent failure fully to implement the radical reforms promised by the Second Vatican Council half a century ago.  By canonising both the Pope who set off the reform movement and the Pope who applied the brakes, declaring for example that hot-button issues such as the celibacy rule and the ordination of women as priests were not up for discussion, Pope Francis has skilfully deflected any possible criticism that he could be taking sides. It was Saint John XXIII who made the bold decision to summon all the world's bishops to Rome for the Second Vatican Council in 1962. When he was elected he was expected to be a transitional figure after the death of the now controversial wartime Pope Pius XII. But he turned out to be one of the greatest forces for change in the Church in modern times, despite his relatively short five year reign.  Saint John Paul II, on the other hand, reigned longer than practically any other pope in history - just over 26 years. It was my peculiar fortune to be the witness of many of his triumphal overseas journeys. I saw him kneel to kiss the ground as he arrived back for the first time on a visit to his native Poland.  And I witnessed the long, slow decline in his health to the point when he was barely able to descend the aircraft steps, let along stoop to kiss the earth. As Rome correspondent for the BBC I travelled as a member of the Vatican Press on the papal charter plane on some 50 foreign trips, which took the new saint and his Vatican retinue to the four corners of the Earth. Paradoxically we had closer access to John Paul than many Vatican officials during these often gruelling journeys, all over Africa and South America and even further afield. We touched down in most of the world's capitals, with the exception of Moscow and Beijing. He spoke six languages fluently and several others, including English, less well, and during long flights over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans he used to wander through the back of the plane and chat quite freely with us.  I remember on one occasion being surprised by the new saint as I was strapped in my seat, having my breakfast shoeless and tieless. I asked him how he managed to keep up the pace of these long journeys after the attempt on his life, which had taken its toll on his health. "That's easy to explain," he said, pointing upwards with his finger. "Management from above!"

^ I think it shows just how truly modern-thinking Pope Francis is. The two former Popes he is making saints worked to reform the Catholic Church into the 20th and 21st Centuries. These three Popes (Francis, John XXIII and John Paul II) have (and in Pope Francis' case - continue to ) brought/bring the traditions and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church to millions of people and to modernize them just enough to remember the past and prepare for the future of the Church. ^

Survivor Help Line

From the JP:
"Jewish-Christian aid group announces new call center for needy Holocaust survivors"

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) announced on Friday ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the establishment of a new emergency calls center for health and social issues for tens of thousands of needy Holocaust survivors. As part of the project, a panic button will be provided to underprivileged Holocaust survivors, which will allow them to receive medical advice, call for a doctor or an ambulance and provide social assistance to alleviate feelings of distress and loneliness, all at subsidized prices. In addition, the IFCJ will establish a fund to financially assist survivors who cannot afford treatments, transportation and medical equipment. The project will cost an estimated NIS 5.25 million per year and is set to launch next summer, once a list of eligible participants will be determined and logistical operations in place. “The treatment of Holocaust survivors in Israel for many years suffered severe deficiencies and many survivors today are suffering from serious problems of poverty and loneliness. This situation is a serious moral stain on the forehead of Israeli society as a whole and this population should be treated without delay and on a significant scale while they are still living among us,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, IFCJ founder and president. The hotline was established following a request by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel.  In previous years the Foundation was able to provide panic buttons to some 12,000 survivors through government funding.  However due to a rearrangement of government funding to other benefits for survivors, no budget was allocated to provide this service to new survivors. “We thank the Fellowship for its efforts to establish an emergency call center for survivors, a project that is a critical need for many survivors, and will run in cooperation with the Foundation at its head,” said Avi Dichter, chairman of the Foundation. Currently, only around 8,500 survivors are connected to panic buttons, despite an increase in the need for this service, due to aging survivors and their accompanying medical needs. On Wednesday the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel released a report indicating that some 50,000 Holocaust survivors were living in poverty. Furthermore, according to the report, 45 percent of Holocaust survivors felt lonely and one out of every five had been forced to choose between food and other necessities during the past two years due to financial insecurity. The Finance Ministry recently announced a NIS one billion ten point national plan to assist Holocaust survivors during the next five years.  The plan essentially calls for the elimination of unnecessary bureaucracy, transferring allowances directly to survivors’ bank accounts in an effort to improve their conditions. In addition, it calls to raise the minimum allowances for all Holocaust survivors who receive monthly pensions, and would entitle survivors to a 100% discount on pharmaceutical drugs included in the health basket, compared to the 50% deductible they have today. “Recently, the Israeli government has announced several dramatic decisions regarding aid to Holocaust survivors.  We welcome this and call on the government to fulfill its obligations quickly to finally allow Holocaust survivors to live the rest of their lives with dignity,” said Eckstein.
^ Israel owes its initial existence to these Holocaust survivors (and the victims) since it was after the images of the death camps moved around the world after World War 2 that nations finally agreed to give the Jews their own homeland in Palestine. The UN member countries voted and agreed. These same survivors also fought off overwhelming odds when the militaries of numerous Arab/Muslim countries attacked the new Israel in 1948 and pledge to "push the Jews into the sea." It has been 66 years since Israel was established and has thrived into the only democratic and Western country in the Middle East and yet Israel doesn't do nearly enough for the Holocaust survivors living in their country. Every now and then the Government throws some more money at them, but the red-tape makes it difficult to get. While I think it's a good thing that the IFCJ is creating this emergency program to aid the survivors governments and organizations should go to the survivors themselves with the aid rather than make the survivors come to them and  "beg" for help. There are Holocaust survivors in countless countries around the world and they ALL deserve to live the remainder of their days in peace and above the poverty line. ^