Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sans Water

From MT:
"Kiev to Shut Off Household Hot Water Until October"

Residents of Kiev will have to live without hot water until mid-October in order to help cut municipal gas bills, Ukrainian media reported Thursday. "We plan to turn [the water off] in all homes so that the heating season will be steadier than our present calculations suggest [it otherwise would be]. At present, the state's gas supplies are strictly regimented and divided up among the regions," Dmitry Novitsky, the director of the city's housing and utilities department, said in comments carried by Ukraine's Vesti Reporter. Novitsky also warned of the possibility that hot water could be kept off even longer, noting that authorities would decide whether to turn hot water back on by Oct. 15. At that time, he said, it may still be necessary to "switch to a harsher regime," the publication reported. "In the end, we all must realize that the question of gas today is not so much a matter of energy independence as it is a matter of national security," Novitsky said, in apparent reference to the tensions between Ukraine and Russia. Relations between Ukraine's Naftogaz and Russia's Gazprom have plummeted in recent months against the backdrop of perpetual diplomatic spats between Kiev and Moscow. In mid-June, Russia shut off gas supplies to Ukraine after both sides failed to agree on future delivery prices. Currently, Ukraine's gas transit system is only transporting gas supplies destined for Europe. Kiev has repeatedly complained that the fees Russia pays to transport gas to Europe are too low. In mid-June, both sides filed claims against each other in a Stockholm arbitration court, with Gazprom on one side trying to recoup losses after it said Kiev failed to pay a $1.95 billion gas debt, and Kiev on the other seeking $6 billion for alleged overpayments to Gazprom. As of Tuesday, hot water had already been cut off from 5,500 homes in Kiev.

^ Again the ordinary Ukrainians are the ones made to suffer because of their eastern neighbor. Hopefully, the Ukrainian Government will be able to find a solution to this and get the hot water back. Turning off the hot water was created by the Russians (and used by the Soviets) and even today many parts of the former USSR turn off the hot water in the summer to "clean out the pipes." I experienced no hot water many times when I was in Russia. It made me feel as though I was in some Third World country since it was the only place I have ever been to that did that. ^

Russian 100

From the MT:
"How & Why Russia Forgot The Great War"

Russia lost 3 million people in World War I. But it also provided examples of explosive military strength and economic resilience that would make any nation proud. And yet, though the 100th anniversary of the war — which Russia joined on Aug. 1, 1914 — has revived some interest in the event, Russians generally do not often speak of World War I. This is a nation that loves and cherishes memories of other past military triumphs. World War II has  developed a cult-like status over the decades, and even the Great Patriotic War against Napoleon is widely discussed and revered.
But beyond the history books, the Great War hardly features in mass culture, having contributed neither myths nor heroes to Russian folk culture, and hardly having made a dent in nation's wealth of arts and literature. World War I's marginal position in Russian lore owes to the fact that it fell between the cracks of history, or — more specifically — between the Tsarist and Bolshevik regimes, Russian scholars said.  In destroying the tsars, the Bolshevik revolutionaries denounced the Great War as imperialist, thus robbing it of its potential for a popular legacy. "The two world wars are antithetical national myths for Russia," said prominent philosopher and columnist Maxim Goryunov.
"It is an either-or situation. [World War I and World War II] are mutually exclusive, you cannot celebrate them both," Goryunov told The Moscow Times on the eve of the war's 100th anniversary on Thursday. Russia boasts two major museums dedicated to the legacy of its 1812 war against Napoleon. Scores of museums celebrate the memory of World War II, and monuments to its heroes and victims can be found in abundance in every post-Soviet city, from Kaliningrad to Siberia.
But the country's first-ever World War I museum is only slated to open its doors in St. Petersburg next Tuesday, 96 years after the war ended. The situation is no better where monuments are concerned: The first monument was unveiled in a park in Moscow's Sokol in 2004 on grounds that had been used clandestinely by the Bolshevik regime to bury the Great War's dead en masse. The park is now slated for partial demolition. Only 15 percent of Russians know that World War I was triggered by the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and only 12 percent can correctly list the warring parties, according to a nationwide survey conducted by state pollster VTsIOM. More than half of the 1,600 Russians polled earlier this month, found themselves at a loss to answer  either of these questions. In other words, they knew nothing about the war. The problem with World War I is that the Russian regime that sent its troops to the front line was itself a casualty of the war, historians said. The Romanov regime was ousted by the Bolsheviks, who saw the Great War as "imperialist" and actively opposed it, even as their countrymen fought on the front lines.
The Bolsheviks' negative view of the war became the party line, and lingered for decades in the Soviet history books, said Dr. Yelena Rudaya, a leading expert on World War I who works for the Historical Perspective Foundation, a conservative non-profit think tank in Moscow. "They labeled it 'a shameful page of our history,' though it was actually a glorious one," Rudaya said of the Bolsheviks. By contrast, the 1812 war had the tsarist regime to promote it, and World War II had the Soviet leadership, which made it a cornerstone of their patriotic ideology, said historian Valentin Shelokhayev, an expert on the late Russian empire. "A war's memory is preserved from generation to generation by the political system [that survives it]," said Shelokhayev, who sits on the academic board of the Institute of Russian History at the Russian Academy of Sciences. "But other people came to power in 1917," he said. Russia generally has a poor historical memory, Shelokhayev said. A prime example is the 1917 revolution: Once celebrated as the most important event in history, it has gradually been forgotten, he said. Almost half of Russians, or 47 percent, said the Bolshevik Revolution did not matter to them, and another 15 percent had no opinion on the matter, according to a 2012 poll conducted by the state-run Public Opinion Foundation. The study surveyed 1,500 respondents nationwide. But the legacy of the Great War is finally hitting its stride in Russia, pundits said. "Attention is mounting, thanks to the anniversary," Rudaya said. The war can actually be said to have had a unique impact on modern Russia: Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, the best-known warlord of the pro-Russian insurgency presently blazing in eastern Ukraine, is an avid historical re-enactor whose interests center on World War I troops, as well as the White Army forces that fought the Bolsheviks during the Civil War of 1917 to 1922. However, Girkin — who has been known to impersonate tsarist dragoons and machine gunners alike, and whose former day job was that of an FSB officer — is also known to evoke Stalin-era war rules in his orders. In May, he was reported to have had two marauders executed in line with a Soviet martial law decree issued at the start of World War II in 1941. World War I is gradually emerging from obscurity as the divide between the communist past and the tsarist times blur in the Russian public conscience, philosopher Goryunov said. "These days, a Red commissar is shaking the hand of a White officer," Gorynov said.
"This is an unnatural, insane, neurotic blend," he said. "But miraculously, it works … because the people honestly don't care." After teaming up with France and Britain to join the war, Russia's contribution proved crucial to the Triple Entente's victory right from the start, when the opening of the Eastern Front foiled the German blitzkrieg that had threatened to destroy the French and British armies, historian Rudaya said. Russia beat the Great Retreat in 1915, losing Poland, Lithuania and Galicia in today's western Ukraine, but counterattacked with the brilliant Brusilov Offensive in 1916, which broke the back of the Austro-Hungarian army. General Alexei Brusilov, who led the offensive, has since been recognized as one of the best military commanders in Russian history, which is studded with superb war leaders.  At 1.6 million deaths, the offensive was also one of the bloodiest military operations in history, on par with the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 to 1943.
Russia's World War I fight ended in 1917, when domestic chaos demoralized the army and led Russia to wage a separate peace with the Germans. At home, 1917 was marked by the execution of the Romanovs in February, and the Bolshevik rise to power in November.

^ It's sad for a county to forget any part of it's past (especially those that are so recent  - and yes 100 years is pretty recent.) Without World War 1 the Great October Socialist Revolution wouldn't have happened and the Soviet Union wouldn't have been created and the history of the 20th century would have been completely altered. ^

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)

I just recently saw this movie and really liked it. It is a Canadian movie in both French and English (one of the few bilingual movies I have ever seen.) It's about a body found on the border of Ontario and Quebec and how an English-speaking Canadian and a French-speaking Canadian have to work together to solve the murder(s).Colm Feore plays the English-Canadian and Patrick Huard plays the French-Canadian (not that hard for both as they are in real life.) The movie has a lot of comical parts including many stereotypes (ie the French-Canadians can't drive and the English-Canadians are obsessed with Queen Elizabeth II.) There were many other jokes that made the movie very funny to watch. Not only does the film poke fun at both the French and English-speaking populations, but with Canada as a whole (ie it's obsession with hockey. etc.) While I liked that the film was bilingual it was a little odd at times when a person was speaking French and then in the same sentence switched to English and vice versa. There were times though when it really fit and was pretty funny. I would like to see more bilingual films. Sometimes they film a movie all in English and then again all in French so it doesn't look weird as most dubbed movies do, but to be a bilingual country and not have many bilingual movies, shows, etc seems odd. Besides the jokes the movie had some good action scenes. I was surprised to see that in a Canadian movie (where they are usually so polite and even in the action/adventure scenes they seem subdued.) I'm surprised that the movie didn't have a sequel as it would easily have been a good one. If Canada continues making films like this one then the Canadian film industry will be known internationally as more than a place where American films are made because it is cheaper.

US In The Middle

From USA Today:
"Americans move to Israel in the middle of a war"

When Americans Malachi and Tanya Avital Yehuda moved to Tel Aviv on July 21, they knew they would be entering a war zone. Even so, when an air raid siren began to wail in Beersheva, Israel's largest southern city, within an hour of the couple's arrival at their immigrant absorption center the next day, it came as a shock. "We were in our room, but it was too far to the bomb shelter so we ran to the stairwell for safety," Tanya Avital, 51, recalled a week after touching down at Ben Gurion International Airport. "I felt unprepared. I realized, suddenly, that if a siren sounded at night I'd have to have something close by to throw on in a hurry." "(It) made my heart beat fast and I broke into a sweat," the retired New York City corrections officer said of the experience. "But it didn't make me want to leave. Just the opposite: Israel is our home, and we're committed to being here," The Yehudas, an Orthodox Jewish African-American couple from Riverdale, N.Y., are among the 546 Americans who have emigrated to the country since July 1. Of those, 52 people have moved to the south, where the vast majority of the more than 2,600 rockets launched from Gaza since July 8 have hit, according to the Israeli army. Israeli forces, meanwhile, have hit 4,100 targets in Gaza, about one-third connected to the militants' ability to launch rockets at Israel, the Israeli military said in a statement. On Wednesday, during an apartment-hunting expedition in Ashkelon, a southern coastal city hit especially hard by the rocket fire, Malachi, a 55-year-old former American serviceman, said he and his wife "never once considered" delaying their flight. "We wanted to be in Israel. What better way to show the terrorists we aren't afraid, and that we stand with Israel 101%?" he said.
Longtime Ashkelon residents say the war — the third one with Hamas in six years — is wreaking havoc with their lives in ways that aren't visible to the outside world. "Our children are traumatized from years of war. They can't sleep," said Yisrael Karisi, 35, the owner of a small eatery on one of the city's main streets. "They can't play outside because they don't have enough time to run to a shelter."
Since the war began, Karisi said, he has earned about $125 per day instead of the much higher sums he earns at other times. His wife can no longer work, he said, "because she needs to be home with the children." Despite the challenges, Karisi insists Israel should not sign a cease-fire "until the army gets rid of every tunnel Hamas has built in order to kidnap and kill Israelis." "More than 50 soldiers have died," he said, "and if there's another war in a year or two, they will have died for nothing." At Karisi's restaurant for lunch, Shalom Kahelon, 74, predicts "there will never be peace here," then begins to cry softly. "Shalom fought in four or five wars, and this latest war has brought up all the old traumas," his wife, Ora Kahelon, 74, explains, grabbing his hand and squeezing it. "Our soldiers are dying, and the Arabs will never accept our right, the Jews' right, to live here," Shalom says. "Whether they accept it or not," Ora says, "we are Israelis, we're here, and we're not going anywhere."

^ This just shows the true spirit of the Americans support for Israel (the American people, not Obama or Kerry) and the Israeli's resolve to never be victims again. ^

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

People's Support

From the BBC:
"Crowdfunding in Ukraine's DIY war"

Public donations are helping the Ukrainian government's war effort as troops try to close in on pro-Russian separatists in the east.  Money and supplies are reaching the military via Facebook groups, websites, text messages and volunteer organisations. Less than a month after then President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia, the defence ministry issued an appeal for help for the impoverished armed forces.  Over the next four months, $11.7m (£6.85m) was reportedly donated - including $2.8m from mobile phones, by people sending text messages to a special number, 565, set up by the defence ministry. As it became obvious that Ukraine's military lacked even the most basic supplies, activists set up many online groups to collect and deliver donations to the army.  Wings Phoenix has become one of the most popular. "Our task is to provide the Ukrainian army with clothes and shoes, protect and improve it as soon as possible," says the group's mission statement. It has more than 35,000 followers on Facebook and claims to have collected more than $850,000 (£500,000).   The type of goods donated is almost entirely non-lethal, ranging from food, medicines and toiletries to bullet-proof vests, helmets and binoculars.  There have even been reports in Ukrainian media about members of the public giving the army their own armoured personnel carriers, which had apparently been bought as surplus military equipment. Some of the donations go directly to individual soldiers. Activist Nataliya Vetvitskaya, who has 16,000 followers on Facebook, visits wounded soldiers in hospitals and then posts their bank details online so that money can be transferred directly into their accounts.  Fans of football club Dnipro set up a donation point in the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk and groups have been sending activists to supermarkets to encourage shoppers to buy and donate food on the spot.  The donations are then delivered by volunteers to military units involved in fighting in the east. Facebook group Army SOS gives details of how the money is spent, posting photos of goods being delivered to military units in the field. Some groups are more specialised. One Facebook community is dedicated to making and supplying the army with bullet-proof vests, and another to procuring medicines. Luta Sprava focuses on t-shirts, which seem to be in short supply in the army, too. "There is no such thing as too many t-shirts for our guys," is its motto. "Buy one t-shirt for yourself, and another will be presented to a soldier." Many, if not most, discussions in online groups helping the Ukrainian army are in Russian. Yet officials and media in Moscow have suggested that Russian speakers in Ukraine are being threatened by the military and need protection. But are the Ukrainian army's separatist foes getting similar public support? There is little evidence of that in Ukraine. However, donation campaigns have been launched across Russia to help the rebel self-proclaimed "people's republics" in Ukraine's east.  Public donations from Russia mainly consist of money, food, medicines and non-lethal supplies. Some of this aid was reportedly received by men and women involved in actual combat. But most of the donation drives in Russia are aimed at helping refugees from Ukraine's troubled Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Campaigns to recruit combatants to go to Ukraine are having more impact on the conflict. In many cases, this is done via social media, within right-wing and paramilitary groups such as cossacks.  Novaya Gazeta, a liberal newspaper, alleged that some of the Russian Defence Ministry's conscription offices were now being used to recruit separatist fighters to resist the Ukrainian army. In Kiev's view, it is that kind of recruitment - as well as the alleged supply of weapons from Russia - that fuels this conflict. Without them, the crisis would have petered out long ago, Ukrainian officials say.

^ I wrote about this at the beginning of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and it seems to have continued despite months of conflict. It still amazes me how the Ukrainian people continue to support their territory integrity and their soldiers (both in words and in actions.) It reminds me of the days of World War 2 when the US Homefront gave everything and anything to support their troops and the common fight. The US hasn't seen that kind of patriotism or support since 1945 (which is unfortunate.) The majority of Americans will simply talk and then do nothing to actually support the troops (not even sending a Christmas card to an unknown soldier, etc.) The people of the Ukraine do not have much money, but they have been giving whatever they can to support their country. It also amazes me that the Ukrainian people don't simply attack everything Russian (despite Russia supporting the pro-Russia terrorists in eastern Ukraine and Russia annexing the Crimea.) The Ukrainians still speak Russian and help Russian-speakers in their country while the pro-Russia terrorists are waging an ethnic cleansing of anyone non-Russian (ie Ukrainians, Crimean, Tartar, Jewish, etc.) That fact right there sums up the whole conflict and who is in the right and who is in the wrong. ^

US Views

From DW:
"'Many Americans see Israel as the holy land'"

In Europe, criticism of Israel's actions in Gaza is slowly picking up steam. In the US, however, public opinion is still very much pro-Israel. DW talked to former Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat about the sentiment there.

DW: Ambassador, Israel is losing the public relations war outside the United States, but here in the US the reaction has been muted with polls showing most Americans still supportive. Why is that?

Stuart Eizenstat: The Gaza reaction goes back to the basic context of how Americans view Israel and Hamas. First of all, there has traditionally been much more support for Israel going back decades here than in Europe and the reason is a mixture of things. Many Americans see Israel as the holy land, something even as Christians they think is important to preserve. And as a democratic bastion in a sea of autocrats and dictators, as a country dedicated to the kinds of rule of law and other values that Americans cherish and contrast to the absence of that in many of the Arab countries. There is a view that organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, are all part of the Islamic terrorist threat that we saw in 9/11. The view of many Americans is all tied together with other similar terrorist organizations. So when a Hamas rocket goes into Israel, it's viewed as part and parcel of an attack against the West by Islamic radicals.

But how do the Americans see civilian casualities among the Palestinians?

l remember that Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon pulled lock, stock, and barrel out of Gaza, took all the settlers out, 7,000 of them, dismantled every single Israeli institution and indeed was willing to transfer to the Palestinians those things of value, like flour, hot houses, and things, which by the way, once Israel left were totally destroyed. So instead of getting peace and tranquility, once Hamas took over from the Palestinian authority, they gave them not roses but rockets. And that speaks volumes. And Americans have a very clear recollection of that history. Also, if one goes back years and asks the basic question, 'Do you support Israel or the Palestinians?' you always get the same response from Americans. By factors of four and five to one, people support Israel over the Palestinians and that's a constant thread.

Others say that the Americans support Israel because of the failure of the Arab Spring movements to spread democracy in the Middle East. Do you agree?

That's only one factor. Americans see that Arab countries have no rule of law, no democracy, no empowerment of their citizens, and since the Arab spring, where there was a hope that some of those democratic western values would be implanted, instead Americans see chaos in the region. And yes of course there's a concern. I don't think Americans are insensitive to the fact that Palestinian civilians are being killed.

 Europeans obivously have a different sense of it. We've seen a lot of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Paris, Amsterdam, or Berlin. Why don't we see any demonstrations like that in Washington?

I have spent and continue to spend an enormous amount of time in Europe. I think it's too easy to say and I reject the notion that there is endemic anti-Semitism in Europe. I don't think that's the factor. And in fact if you go back to 1967 and the Six Day War, Israel was the darling of European public opinion and even the democratic left and the academics. It was a sort of a David and Goliath notion; little Israel fighting off the combined armies of all the Arabs. Public opinion instinctively identifies with the weaker of the two parties which they now see as the Palestinians. There is however an additional factor. In many of the key countries in Europe you have Muslim populations approaching or over 10 percent and a radicalized youth who have not been well integrated. We have a much smaller Muslim population in the United States, one that's more deeply integrated.

And you have a large and influential Israeli community.
Well, out of a population of 320 million, there are about six and a half million Jews. So it's not a large population but it's very politically engaged and active. But again I think the Muslim population in the United States is a much more assimilated, integrated community than it is in Europe where it's never been properly assimilated and integrated. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) did a massive study a few weeks ago of some 100 countries on anti-Semitism asking - quite apart from the Gaza and Israeli conflict - traditional questions that measure anti-Semitism: Do Jews have too much power, do they have too much influence, are they more loyal to Israel than to their own country? And what the ADL found is that for Americans, around 20 percent hold those views. In Europe, the figure is closer to a third.

The polls also say that older Americans tend to take Israel's side, while the younger generation doesn't. So numbers among the young and Democrats may be a long-term problem for Israel.

I think this is an issue. Polls quite clearly show Republicans tend to be more supportive of Israel and more supportive of Israel during conflicts like Gaza. Democrats, who tend to have some of the same views on human rights and empathy for the poor, tend to identify more with the Palestinians. Now they're not going to go out to the ramparts and go after synagogues as you see in Europe, but in terms of holding views that are not as symmetrical with all of Israeli policies particularly the settlement policies which bother Democrats more than they bother Republicans, yes, that's a concern and it's a long-term concern.

Stuart Eizenstat served as the United States Ambassador to the European Union from 1993 to 1996 and as the United States Deputy Secretary of the Treasury from 1999 to 2001.

^ I agree that the US and Israel have had a long and prosperous relationship since Israel was established in 1948 (the US was the first country to recognize and independent Israel.) Most of it could be that the Arab countries tend to be very un-democratic dictatorships that go against the very grain of American society. The fact that the majority of Arab and Muslim countries openly call for the complete destruction of Israel as their only goal also doesn't sit well with Americans who see Israel as a country that just wants to be left alone. Israel is the only democratic, westernized country in the Middle East and has shown it's restraint in the past 60 + years (when they could have easily destroyed their enemies around them, but merely defended themselves against attacks. I don't agree with the statement that Europe doesn't have an anti-Semitism problem. Europe has long used the Jews, and their hatred of them, to cover-up their own problems and issues. From the Inquisition to the Holocaust to the current economic woes the Europeans have a buried hatred of the Jews that seeps to the surface every now and then and it looks like that hatred is coming-out one again. ^

VA Deal

From the BBC:
"Congress announces deal on veterans affairs health fix"

Veterans affairs leaders in Congress have announced a compromise to help address the problems overwhelming the US veterans healthcare system. Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Jeff Miller announced a $17bn (£10bn) deal that reconciles Senate and House bills passed in June. The agency has been stung by revelations of falsified records and months-long waits for appointments.
It provides healthcare to about nine million veterans. The agency has been overwhelmed in recent years by the surge of aging Vietnam veterans and young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan seeking care. A recent VA audit revealed more than 57,000 veterans had to wait three months or longer for initial healthcare appointments. An additional 64,000 veterans who requested appointments over the last 10 years never received them.  At the same time, it has been revealed hospital employees falsified records to conceal the long wait times from administrators in Washington DC. The agreement announced on Monday includes about $10bn in emergency spending for veterans to obtain outside care if they cannot get prompt appointments with Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors, $5bn to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff, and $1.5bn to set up 27 new VA clinics around the country.
Mr Sanders, the Senate veterans committee chairman who is one of the most liberal members of the chamber, said the legislation "makes certain that we address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced on to long waiting lists" while strengthening the VA's ability to hire medical professionals and "permanently put an end to the long waiting lists". The bill, which will need to be approved by both the House and Senate, would also grant the VA secretary authority to fire senior executives immediately. Veterans advocates were cautious in their praise for the deal. "There is an emergency need to get veterans off the waiting lists," Louis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, told the Associated Press News agency. "That's what this is all about." But Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the agreement was several months too late.  "It's about time they're doing their jobs," he said. "You don't get a medal for doing your job." The deal was struck over the weekend after six weeks of talks. Among the compromises was a provision limiting outside care to veterans who had enrolled prior to 1 August.  Congressional budget analysts had suggested that without limits, tens of thousands of veterans who currently are not treated by the VA would likely seek care if they could see a private doctor, dramatically increasing costs.
In another compromise, $5bn of the $17bn would be offset by other spending cuts within the VA.
Veterans Affairs chief Eric Shinseki resigned in late May amid the scandal, after a damning internal VA investigation uncovered the "systemic" problems in delivering care to veterans across the country. Robert McDonald, former chief executive of consumer goods giant Procter and Gamble, is expected to be confirmed by the US Senate to succeed Mr Shinseki this week.

^ Hopefully this agreement will be the start to fixing the horrible conditions and lack of treatment that our veterans have been receiving so far from the VA. ^

Mosul Radicals

From the Stars and Stripes:
"In Iraq's Mosul, radicals unleash their vision"

Residents of Mosul have watched helplessly as extremists ruling the northern Iraqi city blew up some of their most beloved landmarks and shrines to impose a stark vision of Islam. Next up for destruction, they feared: the Crooked Minaret, a more than 840-year-old tower that leans like Italy's Tower of Pisa. But over the weekend, residents pushed back. When fighters from the Islamic State group loaded with heavy explosives converged on the site, Mosulis living nearby rushed to the courtyard below the minaret, sat on the ground and linked arms to form a human chain to protect it, two residents who witnessed the event told The Associated Press on Monday. They told the fighters, If you blow up the minaret, you'll have to kill us too, the witnesses said. The militants backed down and left, said the witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from the militants. But residents are certain the militants will try again. Over the past two weeks, the extremists ruling Iraq's second largest city have shrugged off previous restraint and embarked on a brutal campaign to purge Mosul of anything that challenges their radical interpretation of Islam. The militants — though Sunnis — target shrines revered by other Sunni Muslims because the sites are dedicated to popular religious figures. In the radicals' eyes, that commits one of the worst violations of Islam: encouraging worship of others besides God. The scene on Saturday was a startling show of bravery against a group that has shown little compunction against killing anyone who resists it. It reflects the horror among some residents over what has become of their beloved city. "The bombing of shrines ... has nothing to do with Islam," Abu Abaida, 44, a government employee, told the AP by phone from the city. "They are erasing the culture and history of Mosul." Like other residents, he spoke to the AP on condition he be identified by a nickname or first name for fear of retaliation. When militants from the Islamic State group first swept into in Mosul in June, they proclaimed themselves the mainly Sunni city's savior from the Shiite-led Iraqi government in Baghdad. Their first priority was to rebuild infrastructure and provide services like garbage collection that the government had neglected. They held off from implementing their strict version of Islamic law, urging modesty for women but doing little to enforce it and generally leaving alone the Christian population that had not already fled. The aim, it seemed, was to avoid alienating a Sunni community whose support they needed. Now, the honeymoon is over. In recent weeks, they have purged the city of nearly its entire Christian population, moved to restrict women and began the systematic destruction of city landmarks. Nearly daily, the militants have been destroying some of the city's most famed sites. On Thursday, they lay a wall of explosives around the Mosque of the Prophet Younis — or Jonah, the prophet who in both the Bible and Quran was swallowed by a whale. They ordered everyone out of the shrine, which is said to contain the prophet's tomb, and blew it up.
The next day, it was the turn of the Mosque of Sheeth, or Seth, said to be the burial site of the third son of Adam and Eve. On Saturday, they reduced to rubble the Mosque of the Prophet Jirjis. Last week, they removed the crosses on the domes and brick walls of the 1,800-year old Mar Behnam monastery, then stormed it, forcing the monks and priest to flee or face death. The move came days after jihadists proclaimed over loudspeakers from mosques that Christians must convert to Islam, pay a tax or die, prompting the flight of almost all the Christians who remained in the city. Women's rights are now being abruptly restricted. The militants hung banners at on the wall of the Heibat Khatoun mosque before Friday prayers instructing women to wear loose clothing and cover their faces. No bright colors. No patterns They then distributed a statement to tailors and shops that sell women's clothes informing them of their newly imposed dress code, shopkeepers told the AP. An Associated Press reporter saw several female mannequins in shops with their faces covered "Even at the time of Prophet Muhammad, there was no face veil," said Um Farouq, 55, a Mosul resident. "These people with Daesh are just making up ideas that do not exist in Islamic Shariah," she said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. The group had already shown its true colors in Syria, where it holds a large swath of the east and north. There, its fighters have banned music, imposed full veils, imposed taxes on Christians and killed people in main squares for defying their Shariah rules. Earlier this month, for the first time, they stoned to death two women accused of adultery. Iraq's Mosul was once famed for its religious and ethnic diversity, and it is one of few cities in Iraq where a significant number of Christians remained after the U.S.-led invasion. It was a traditional stronghold both for Islamic conservatives and more secular pan-Arab nationalists.
Mosulis who cannot bear the extremists' rule have joined more than a million other Iraqis who have fled their homes in areas under the group's control.

^ No one with half a brain can be surprised by an Islamist-terrorist group like ISIS. The same things happened with the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s and in Iran in the 1970s. You would have to live under a rock to think any group that wants everything non-Islamist to be destroyed to be a nice, carefree, democratic group. The rest of the world needs to step in and do something otherwise we will have the same problems with Iraq as we do with Iran and Afghanistan. ^

Monday, July 28, 2014

Patients First

From G and M:
"Hospitals are parting with visiting hours as they move toward more patient-centred care"

  When Chuck Davis was rushed to Kingston General Hospital in May 2013, the nurses in the intensive-care unit offered his wife something she did not expect – a cot. Phyllis Davis was surprised because the last time Davis’s Type 2 diabetes, low hemoglobin and other health troubles landed him in at KGH, back in 2008, she was not allowed to bed down in his ICU room. When visiting hours ended at 8 p.m., she had to drive an hour to the couple’s home in Prince Edward County, where she would fret until her husband’s inevitable call.  “He would phone me, totally upset, then I would try to sneak in to see him and see what I could do,” she recalled. “There was angst on his part, on my part. It was not a very nice situation at all.” All that changed in 2010, when KGH followed an increasingly widespread trend in the United States and became one of the first hospitals in Canada to do away with visiting hours, a move at least 20 other hospitals and health-care facilities across the country have since followed and which others are considering. The open-door approach is one element of a larger move toward putting patients and their families – as opposed to doctors and nurses – at the centre of hospital culture, a shift that “patient engagement” proponents say helps the ill get better faster. At KGH, signs advertising visiting times and loudspeaker announcements hustling family and friends out the door at 8 p.m. were eliminated and replaced with a “family presence” policy – which, translated from health-care speak, means letting in as many visitors as a patient wants, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That idea is as appealing to some as it is repellent to others. Supporters see it as a way to involve families more intimately in their loved ones’ healing, while opponents worry that an around-the-clock parade of visitors could spread infectious disease, disrupt other patients and put unnecessary pressure on nurses and security staff. The Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care (IPFCC), the major U.S. organization advocating the end of visiting hours, says those fears have not come to pass in the American hospitals that welcome family and friends day and night. The Bethesda, Md.-based organization is hosting its first international conference outside the United States, in Vancouver Aug. 6-8, and the group’s campaign to end visiting hours is one of the bolder pitches on the agenda. “Families are less angry when we get rid of these locked doors,” said Beverley Johnson, president and CEO of the IPFCC, a non-profit that helps health-care facilities implement pro-patient practices. Johnson said hospital bosses in the U.S. are warming to the idea of around-the-clock visiting. In 2008 and 2009, about three-quarters of all hospitals and 90 per cent of ICUs in the United States restricted visitors in some fashion, according to a study of 606 hospitals published last year in the journal Critical Care. A survey conducted this year by the research and education arm of the American Hospital Association found 42 per cent of hospitals in the U.S. reported restrictive-visiting-hour policies, which suggests the open-hours trend has spread over the last six years. (It should be noted, however, that the 2014 survey was not a straight replication of the 2008-2009 study, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions.) In Canada’s fractured provincial health system, nobody is keeping track of the number of hospitals that have done away with visiting hours. But, at least anecdotally, it appears that more are giving it a try. Island Health, the health authority on Vancouver Island, made the change a few years ago; Quinte Health Care, a network of four hospitals in and around Belleville, Ont., announced the end of visiting hours last October; and Providence Health Care, a network of 16 facilities in Vancouver, officially followed suit in December. Before Providence Health Care’s facilities moved to a family-presence policy, the network approached visiting hours in the same ad hoc way that a lot of hospitals do. There was no blanket visiting hours regime, just a patchwork of rules that varied from unit to unit and even shift to shift, depending on the staff on duty. “You’d get one nurse who worked a night shift who would say, ‘Yeah, absolutely, come by whenever you feel like it,’ and literally at the next shift, you’d get, ‘No, no, no, you have to go home, it’s 4 p.m,’” said Shannon Parsons, a nurse who is leading Providence Health’s patient-engagement efforts. “It was seen as our – meaning our health-care providers’ – space, which you were being invited into.” Shifting that mentality can be challenging, especially for nurses and other frontline workers who are already overburdened. Linda Haslam-Stroud, the president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, said welcoming visitors all day and night has advantages for patient well-being, but can pose minor headaches for workers, particularly in older hospitals with cramped rooms that hold up to four patients, and in the rare cases when visitors turn violent. That is nothing her members can’t handle, she added – they are already handling crowd control during designated visiting hours.
Leaving it to nurses to exercise their judgment is a cornerstone of the family-presence approach. Common sense is supposed to prevail. All such policies include provisos allowing staff to ask visitors to quiet down or leave if they are bothering other patients in shared rooms, or if neighbouring patients need privacy during sponge baths or when hearing about test results. The policies also advise sick visitors to stay away, which has helped keep the open-door approach from opening the way for more infectious disease outbreaks linked to guests. “The data [linking visitors and infectious disease] is simply not there,” Johnson, the IPFCC head, said. “That’s not where we’re getting all these infections in hospitals. We’re getting them mainly from staff not washing their hands.” The upside, meanwhile, is that family support can be as practical as it is comforting. Relatives and friends help patients to the bathroom, track their medications and watch how wounds are dressed so they can repeat the procedure when patients are sent home. For Phyllis Davis, the benefits of around-the-clock visiting hours at KGH could not have been more clear. After Chuck’s stint in the critical-care unit, he was transferred to a general medicine floor where he stayed until his death in October 2013 at the age of 66. Phyllis, 65, stayed, too. “The only time I ever went home was on the weekends, when I would just buzz home quickly, have a shower, do a wash, get clothes for the week and go back again. I wouldn’t be away for more than about three or four hours,” she said. When Chuck, her husband of 25 years, died, Phyllis was at his bedside. “Oh, what a relief to have spent that time with him, to have been there,” she recalled, weeping openly. “He kept saying to me, ‘Thank you so much for staying. Thank you so much for doing this.’ He was such a sweetheart. I said, ‘Where else would I be? Where else would I be?’” Eliminating visiting hours is just one part of the push for patient- and family-centred care at North American hospitals. On its face, the campaign might seem unnecessary – who else would be at the centre of a hospital’s mission? – but hospital culture has historically suited doctors and nurses more than their patients. Some of the other changes that hospitals are making include:
  • Creating patient-and-family advisory councils, whose members weigh in on nearly every decision a hospital makes.
  • Asking former patients to help design learning materials and signage for the hospital.
  • Inviting patients to sit on hiring panels for hospital staff.
  • Hosting town hall-style meetings at which patients and their families can raise concerns about the hospital.

^ As someone who spent many times in the past 10 years in different hospitals, emergency rooms and ICUs I know what a headache the healthcare system is. I had to fight for everything from blankets to medicines and that was just for my loved one who was the patient (I didn't even bother asking for anything for myself.) My loved-one eventually decided that she wanted to die at home rather than at a hospital because of her experiences at the different hospitals (and even then I had to fight to get her the pain medicine and other items she needed from Home Hospice.) Hospitals, doctors and nurses have forgotten why they are in the field they are in (they are there for the patients) and instead get a "holier than thou" attitude. They treat everything as though it is their own private kingdom and they have the final say - which I have shown many of them that they do not. I had no problem going above anyone's head to get what was needed and if they didn't want to give us the treatment she deserved then we would sign ourselves out, go to another hospital and when things were calmed down I would make official complaints to everyone and anyone involved (and got many positive responses back.) I hope that more hospitals follow these new changes (in Canada, the US and around the world) start really focusing on the patient and their family. ^

US Misled

From Yahoo:
"US fuming over Israeli criticism of Kerry"

The Obama administration pushed back strongly Monday at a torrent of Israeli criticism over Secretary of State John Kerry's latest bid to secure a cease-fire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a "misinformation campaign" against the top American diplomat. "It's simply not the way partners and allies treat each other," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Her comments were echoed by the White House, where National Security Adviser Susan Rice said the U.S. was "dismayed" by mischaracterizations of Kerry's efforts. Israeli media reports have cast Kerry as seeking a cease-fire that is more favorable to Hamas and being dismissive of key Israeli concerns.
Kerry himself, in a speech to the Center for American Progress, noted the criticism but did not give ground. "Make no mistake, when the people of Israel are rushing to bomb shelters, when innocent Israeli and Palestinian teenagers are abducted and murdered, when hundreds of innocent civilians have lost their lives, I will and we will make no apologies for our engagement," he said. The coordinated pushback in Washington came amid growing U.S. frustration with Israel as Palestinian civilian casualties mount amid a sustained Israeli air and ground war in the Gaza Strip. In recent days, U.S. officials have been using subtle yet noticeably tougher language in pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire. The U.S. has made little progress in achieving that objective. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised speech Monday that his country must be ready for "a prolonged campaign" against Hamas in Gaza. As Kerry returned from the region over the weekend, Israeli media commentators leveled almost nonstop criticism of his attempts to bring Qatar and Turkey — two countries viewed by Israel as strong Hamas supporters — into the cease-fire negotiations. Kerry was also accused of abandoning some of Israel's key demands during the negotiations, including demilitarizing Gaza.  In trying to implement the cease-fire over the weekend, "U.S. Secretary of State of State John Kerry ruined everything," wrote columnist Ari Shavit in Monday's Haaretz, Israel's leading liberal newspaper. "Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a 'strategic terrorist attack.'" Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer sought to distance his government from that view, saying, "The criticism of Secretary Kerry for his good faith efforts to advance a sustainable cease-fire is unwarranted." "There is broad understanding between Israel and the United States about the principles for a sustainable cease-fire, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with the United States to advance that goal and a durable solution to the problems in Gaza," Dermer said Monday. U.S. officials disputed the notion that Kerry had formally presented Israel a cease-fire proposal and cast the document in question as a draft given to the Israelis as part of an effort to gain their input in seeking a weeklong cessation of hostilities. Officials said the draft was based on an earlier Egyptian cease-fire proposal that Israel had accepted but Hamas had rejected. Psaki said the U.S. was "surprised and obviously disappointed" to see the draft proposal made public. She also argued that there was a difference between the characterization of Kerry's handling of the negotiations by Israeli media and what government officials were telling the U.S. privately. "No one is calling to complain about the secretary's handling of the situation," Psaki said. Earlier, Kerry had sought to debunk the notion that the U.S. had backed away from its support for the demilitarization of Gaza, which has been a top priority for Israel. "Any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups," Kerry said. While the Obama administration maintains that it supports Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas, officials are increasingly worried about the civilian casualties in Gaza. The White House has also taken a shaper tone in its characterization of President Barack Obama's calls with Netanyahu, noting in the readout of a conversation on Sunday that the U.S. has a "serious and growing concern" about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza. More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed over the past three weeks, Palestinian health officials say. According to the United Nations, about three-fourths of them were civilians. Israel has lost 43 soldiers and two civilians, as well as a Thai worker.

^ It does seem that Obama and Kerry are pretty Pro-Palestinian and Israel is right to show it's disgust with them (while at the same time American popularity in Israel remains high.) The US is one of many countries that has named Hamas a terrorist organization and by supporting the Palestinians in Gaza they (the US Government) is supporting international terrorists. Hamas is on the same level as Al-Qaeda in it's completely destroy attitude. Obama has long been known as a weak President (in both domestic and international matters) and it's not surprising that Kerry is following suit internationally. Obama doesn't seem capable of doing what is needed when it is needed. He and Kerry are siding with Hamas even as Hamas continues to bomb Israel (despite Israel's several attempts at a ceasefire.) Maybe Obama should pick candidates (ie Kerry, Hillary Clinton) that actually know something about foreign affairs rather than the only thing they are known for - not getting the Presidential nomination. In this instance I have to say that I support Israel's stance. The US is not focusing on what is reality and right, but what is easy (blame Israel for being attacked.) That is the same as saying the US deserved to be attacked on 9-11 and shouldn't have defended itself afterwards. Only a moron would think otherwise. ^


From MT:
"How Ukraine Stopped Being Pro-Russian"

Exactly one year ago, President Vladimir Putin went to Ukraine for an official two-day visit to celebrate the 1025th anniversary of the Christianization of Kievan Rus, an occasion that, according to Putin, reminded Russia and Ukraine of their "spiritual unity and common roots."  Putin participated in a service on the Dnepr River with the leaders of Serbia, Moldova and the ill-fated then-president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. The ceremony was marred by protests: Several Ukrainian nationalists protested on Kiev's European Square against what they said was "dragging Ukraine into another of Russia's nationalist projects."  Around that time, 82 percent of Ukrainians viewed Russia mostly or very positively, according to a November 2013 poll conducted by Kiev's International Sociology Institute among among 2,022 respondents with the margin of error not exceeding 3.3 percent.
Today, after Russia's annexation of Crimea and the simmering conflict by Russia-leaning separatists in eastern Ukraine, no one is talking about the 1,000-year unity of two once-brotherly Slavic nations. Ukraine's political elite has never been pro-Russian, as being Moscow's client robs them of authority and sovereignty, argued Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.  "If Ukraine comes closer to Russia, it becomes Malorossia [a region of the Russian empire that roughly corresponds to present-day Ukraine], regardless of what its leaders want," Trenin told Ekho Moskvy radio in an interview broadcast Friday.  Ukraine's second president Leonid Kuchma, whose reign ended with the first mass pro-Western protest in Kiev in 2003, wrote a book with the self-explanatory title: "Ukraine Is Not Russia."  More recently, Russia — which heavily sponsored Ukraine's economy for 23 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union — has been unable to create a pro-Russian belt within Ukraine spanning across the country's southeast from the Kharkiv region to Odessa that would have acted as a counterbalance to pro-Western authorities in Kiev, and the reason for this failure was precisely because those areas lacked strong pro-Russian elites, said Trenin. Vladimir Bruter, an analyst with the International Institute of Humanitarian and Political Studies, a Kiev-based think tank, believes that Ukrainian elites will largely stay pro-Western, as orientation toward Europe and the EU does not threaten the individual prospects of its members.  "The Ukrainian establishment has always been afraid of integrating with Russia, as this move would make its own existence meaningless," he told The Moscow Times in a phone interview.  "They would agree to pursue such a project on an equal basis, but they know it is not possible, given Russia's superiority in size and power," he said.  Despite many media reports describing the previous regime in Kiev as largely pro-Russian and even as a puppet of Moscow, Yanukovych, who was ousted from power in late February, was never a pro-Russian president as such, and his Party of Regions was never a pro-Russian party, analysts said. "The Party of Regions was an organization that united government officials who used its platform to lobby their interests and careers. It was never a pro-Russian political force," Mikhail Pogrebinsky, head of the Kiev Center of Political and Conflict Studies, told The Moscow Times. The Party of Regions actively promoted Ukraine's closer rapprochement with Europe, while Yanukovych himself repeatedly asserted his pro-European stance. "Pro-European choice remains the strategic direction of Ukraine's further civilizational development," Yanukovych said at an Eastern Partnership summit in Lithuania in November, three months before he was thrown out of office by a popular uprising in central Kiev. He had angered many factions in Ukraine — from hardcore nationalists to liberal proponents of closer ties with Europe — after suspending the EU integration process and getting a multi-billion package of financial perks from Putin. During his visit to Kiev last year, Putin met with the Ukrainian Choice organization led by Viktor Medvedchuk, the former head of Ukraine's presidential administration under Kuchma and a personal friend of Putin.  Bruter, who took part in organizing that meeting, said it gathered "all the pro-Russian people in Ukraine," but that it ended with "nothing, as there was no agenda for the future, and everybody realized that it was not possible to create such a movement."

^ This gives a good summary of more recent Russo-Ukrainian (or Ukrainian-Russian) relations. ^

Missing Bank

From the G & M:
"Canada works to institute a national missing persons DNA databank"

Judy Peterson arranged to meet a pair of British Columbia RCMP officers on the side of the road halfway between Courtenay and Victoria. The police opened the back of their SUV, retrieved a DNA collection kit and pricked Ms. Peterson’s fingertip for blood. The sample was transformed into a genetic profile and uploaded into the province’s DNA databank, where it was cross-checked with profiles culled from unidentified remains – a system unique to B.C. in Canada. There wasn’t a match: Ms. Peterson’s missing daughter, Lindsey, wasn’t among the remains stored at the B.C. Coroners Service facility.  But what Ms. Peterson still doesn’t know is whether Lindsey is among the hundreds of other unidentified remains across the country. Nor does she know whether her daughter’s DNA was found at a crime scene. That’s because Canada doesn’t have a national missing persons DNA databank – yet. The Conservatives’ latest budget, tabled in February, pledged up to $8.1-million over five years starting in 2016-2017 to create a DNA-based national missing persons index (MPI). It’s what Ms. Peterson has been fighting for since about 2000. “They say if you lose a child, it’s like you lose a limb, and you have to learn how to live and function in the world with part of you missing,” said Ms. Peterson, whose daughter disappeared at age 14 in August, 1993. “When you have a missing child, it’s like your limb has been crushed. Every time there’s a new lead or there’s something in the news, it’s as if that wound gets bumped and starts bleeding again.” Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, the lead minister on the file, told The Globe and Mail he will always remember the late Jim Flaherty delivering his final budget, looking up at Ms. Peterson in the House of Commons’ gallery and promising to create a national MPI. Calling the measure one of Mr. Flaherty’s legacy items, Mr. Blaney said he’s committed to tabling legislation by the end of 2015. He said it’s “realistic” to foresee the government creating a national MPI and a national human remains index (HRI), both of which could be housed at the RCMP’s existing National DNA Data Bank facility in Ottawa. Mr. Blaney also said it’s within the realm of possibility to cross-reference those two indexes with two existing ones – the crime scene index (CSI) and the convicted offenders index (COI) – to search, for example, for missing people like Lindsey at known crime scenes. The measure is in draft stage, he said, and it’s too soon to know exactly how it will unfold or what the consultation process will yield, including with regard to privacy. But now that the majority Conservatives have promised funding, the question doesn’t appear to be whether the measure will come to fruition, but rather what its scope and fine print will look like. The creation of a national MPI has been debated in Canada for more than a decade, championed by MPs of various stripes, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and mothers like Ms. Peterson and Melanie Alix, whose then-21-year-old son, Dylan Koshman, went missing in Edmonton, 2008. NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison said the budget measure is in principle a “good idea and could have positive results.” But it has likewise elicited concern from the Criminal Lawyers’ Association and the federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner, which doesn’t object to a national missing-persons databank so long as it’s tightly secured and independent from the CSI and COI. Those two indexes collectively contain more than 350,000 profiles and have gleaned over 29,000 “hits” assisting investigations. The Assembly of First Nations, which isn’t mandated to speak on the issue but has discussed it with relatives of some of the hundreds of missing aboriginal women, said some families cautiously support the measure but are wary of the government’s motives for acquiring and storing DNA. There are untold missing people across the country, the number unknown since some cases go unreported and others are misrepresented in national data, in part due to repeat runaways. According to numbers released by the Canadian Police Information Centre in April, more than 60,000 missing adult, youth and children reports were filed last year. At the same time, there are hundreds of unidentified remains in Canada. Ontario Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer said his office is aware of about 200, including a case dating back to 1964, while the acting manager of the B.C. Coroners Service Identification and Disaster Unit, Bill Inkster, said there are 188 there.
The two provinces, home to the highest number of missing persons reports last year, have different ways of handling remains deemed unlikely to be identified. Dr. Huyer said it’s standard practice to bury the remains but first preserve a tooth for possible DNA extraction. B.C., meantime, stores the entire dried skeleton in a cardboard box.

^ Things seem to take a lot longer up North and making a nationwide missing person DNA bank is part of that. Canada doesn't have the large populations as many other places do and if the basic database is already there I don't see an issue. ^

Russian Pride

From the MT:
"First Peaceful Gay Pride Parade Held in St. Petersburg"

For the first time, a gay pride event went off without a violent hitch in Russia, Radio Liberty reported Sunday. Some two dozen LGBT activists rallied on Saturday on the Field of Mars square in downtown St. Petersburg, the report said. Poor attendance has failed to stop attacks in the past: Four similar events held in the city in previous years, most of them unsanctioned, all saw violence by nationalists and religious conservatives. "The Nazis are busy with Donbass," unnamed event-goers were cited as saying by Radio Liberty. A pro-Russian insurgency ongoing in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine has been the focus of Russian politics in recent months. Russian LGBT activists have been campaigning to hold a gay pride parade since 2006, but most requests have been rejected, and in 2013, Russia banned "homosexual propaganda" targeting minors. However, an LGBT rally had been sanctioned last year for the first time in Russia in the newly created free-speech zone at the Field of Mars.

^ This is a small step in the right direction and hopefully it's not a fluke that was over-looked because of something else in another country. ^

Russian Pictures

From USA Today:
"U.S. releases images showing Russia firing into Ukraine"

The United States released a series of satellite images Sunday that appear to support its claims that Russian forces have fired across the border into Ukraine to support rebels there, suggesting a new level of direct Russian involvement in the conflict. The images show artillery and rocket-blast signatures inside Russia and craters formed by the artillery strikes in Ukraine. Washington has accused Russia of arming, training and financing separatists in Ukraine. The images were provided by a senior intelligence official who asked not to be named in order to discuss intelligence issues. The images were also distributed by State Department officials. The images were dated in recent days, though it was not clear when the artillery strikes were launched. One image shows a Ukrainian military position July 20 and the same area July 23 with numerous craters made by an artillery barrage, indicating the strike took place sometime between those dates. The recent activity suggests that Russia has continued to support separatists, even though Russian-backed separatists have been accused of shooting down the Malaysia Airlines flight on July 17, drawing international condemnation.  The U.S. said Russia has been bolstering support to separatists in eastern Ukraine to counter progress that Ukraine's armed forces have made against the rebels. On Sunday, Ukraine's National Security Council said government troops have encircled Horlivka, a key rebel stronghold near where the airliner crashed, and there had been fighting in other cities in the east, the Associated Press reported. Horlivka is about 20 miles north of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk. Analysts say the firepower and anti-aircraft weapons from Russia provide the rebels with a critical edge in their battle against Ukraine's government forces. The rockets can be fired at troop formations, air fields, staging areas, artillery positions and other "area targets," said Jim Howcroft, a retired Marine intelligence officer with extensive experience in the region. He said that capability would allow rebels to break up offensives launched by Ukrainian forces.

^ I have seen these images and while I'm no expert they do seem pretty convincing (along the same lines as the images uses to prove their were Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962.) ^

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tunnel Finding

From Yahoo:
"Israel army in 'detective' hunt for Gaza tunnels"

An Israeli colonel likens the hunt for tunnels dug by Palestinian militants from the coastal enclave of Gaza to the work of a detective. "Finding these tunnels is like a detective trying to solve a murder with a number of clues. There are several pieces to the puzzle, including intelligence and technology," said Lieutenant Colonel Max of the army engineers for the Gaza area. Israel has said uncovering and destroying an apparently sophisticated network of tunnels is a primary goal of its assault unleashed on July 8 in Gaza, particularly its ground invasion. For the first time, the army on Friday gave foreign media access to part of the network, including a tunnel running more than three kilometres (two miles) from southern Gaza's Khan Yunis to near the Israeli kibbutz of Nir-Am.
Max, who declined to give his family name, said the Israeli end of the tunnel was discovered two months ago. But its entrance in Khan Yunis was uncovered this week during the Israeli ground operation launched on July 17.  The tunnel is 1.75 metres high (six foot) and over 70 centimetres across, with its sides reinforced by closely-fitted concrete blocks and ceiling inlaid with arched concrete plates. "Big enough for a man in full body armour to go through standing up," said Max.
The Islamist movement group Hamas which controls Gaza "could have put through dozens, even hundreds of terrorists through this tunnel out on the Israeli side before we would have discovered it."
Max said 26,000 components were used in the construction of the tunnel, estimating it must have cost around one million dollars to build. Along one wall is a rack to string electric cables, while a metal dual track runs on the floor, similar to inside a mine shaft.  Max said the track was used to remove earth during construction and could also have been designed to ferry equipment and arms into Israel.
In part of the tunnel, a narrow niche has been carved out to store equipment and weapons. The army is planning to completely destroy the tunnel within days using explosives, but the process is dangerous, Max said. "You excavate through one of the tunnel walls and it can collapse," he said.
"Within the tunnel itself there can be booby traps, within and just around the entrance there can be booby traps, or there can be one of the enemy waiting within the tunnel. "The biggest dangers though are not in the tunnels themselves but in the surrounding areas where we have to work, where you can have mines, anti-tank weapons, snipers, artillery."  So far, the army has found 30 tunnels, and over 100 shafts leading into them. Max said the army tries to destroy the tunnels it finds from both ends, to ensure they cannot be reused in the future. "You want to reach a point where the entire tunnel, from end to end, is destroyed, so the other side can't come back and use it another time," he said. "Each tunnel takes a couple of days for us to deal with it." Max said the soldiers needed about another week "if we want to neutralise all the tunnels ... at least all the tunnels that we know about."

^ There can be no claim of victory until these tunnels are found and destroyed. It is one thing for Hamas and the Palestinians to be able to bomb Israel from Gaza and another for them to send in terrorists into Israel and try to destroy them from with-in. It's clear that those in the IDF that have to search, find and destroy these tunnels have a dangerous job. Some people compare it to the tunnels the North Vietnamese used during the Vietnam War. Of course the main difference is that the North used the tunnels and made it only to South Vietnam whereas the Palestinian tunnels go into Israel. A comparison is the US finding tunnels on the US-Mexican border that are used to smuggle things and people into the country. ^

Russian In

From Yahoo:
"Pushing locals aside, Russians take top rebel posts in east Ukraine"

As Ukrainian troops gained ground in eastern Ukraine in early July, separatist leader Aleksander Borodai, a Russian national, left for Moscow for political consultations. After what he described as successful talks with unnamed people there, he returned to the rebel stronghold of Donetsk to introduce a new senior figure in his self-proclaimed republic, a compatriot seasoned in the pro-Russian separatist movement in Moldova and a war between Russia and Georgia. Vladimir Antyufeyev was named "deputy prime minister" by Borodai on July 10, one of several native Russians to have taken charge of the separatist rebellion in Ukraine's eastern regions. Joining Borodai and rebel commander Igor Strelkov, Antyufeyev's arrival underlines a change at the top of the separatist movement, highlighting Moscow's involvement in the conflict, Western officials say. The Kremlin denies any involvement. "There has been a dramatic change in the leadership of the Donetsk People's Republic over the past weeks, which certainly gives the impression of a much more hands-on Russian directive role," said Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador to Kiev. "These individuals are in regular touch with authorities in Russia." Ukrainian-born rebel leaders have been eased out, causing rifts among increasingly nervous separatists since a Malaysian airliner was downed over rebel-held territory just over a week ago. Antyufeyev replaced Donetsk native, Alexander Khodakovsky, as the top security person in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. Denis Pushilin, another local once titled the republic's president, was dismissed. Khodakovsky remains a top commander but has taken an increasingly independent line, telling Reuters that separatists had the type of anti-aircraft missile system that Washington says brought the plane down, killing all 298 people on board. Borodai denied this assertion. A Ukrainian official in the southern Azov Sea city port of Mariupol, which Kiev reclaimed from rebels last month, said Russians were taking over the entire rebel operation, sidelining or removing locals. Antyufeyev, also known as Vadim Shevtsov, has a history of supporting pro-Russian separatist movements in the former Soviet Union, and brings a tough discipline and doggedness to the campaign in eastern Ukraine. The balding, 63-year-old says he "fought national fascism" by supporting separatists in the pro-Russian region of Transdniestria in neighboring Moldova, and in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. At his new office at the separatists' Donetsk headquarters, the Siberian-born Antyufeyev said he came to Ukraine because Russians were being killed by forces sent from Kiev. "I know what it is to fight for the rights of the people ... I know what hot spots are," he said in an interview. A picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin looked down on the table where he sat.  Asked whether there were divisions among the rebels, Antyufeyev said: "I am the authority. I have no problems... If they do not understand that, that's their problem. I am a professional in making (people) understand." He earned a fearsome reputation when he served in Transdniestria, which split from Moldova in 1990, as the head of security operations for 20 years. Dismissed in 2012 when his ally was replaced as leader of the tiny sliver of land, he barricaded himself for three days in his study and refused to leave. The EU first blacklisted Antyufeyev over his role in Transdniestria in 2004. Though it later suspended that decision, it has now blacklisted him again over Ukraine, imposing assets freezes and a travel ban on him. One person who had been questioned by Antyufeyev in Transdniestria on suspicion of spying for Moldova said he was a tenacious interrogator. Speaking on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisal, the person said Antyufeyev was "a professional", capable of being sociable and polite, always rigidly following the chosen line. With a smile on his face, Antyufeyev would exert moral pressure, the person said. Oazu Nantoi, a Moldovan political analyst and expert on Transdniestria, predicted Antyufeyev would aim to further destabilize Donetsk and impede Kiev's efforts to regain control. "He is no romantic who came to fire a few shots. He knows what his tasks are. Just as he did in Transdniestria," he said. "Antyufeyev knows how to operate in such situations, how to suppress opposition and dissent... create an atmosphere of fear in which people will support any action by the separatists." Washington says the influx of Russians into the upper ranks of the separatists is matched by an increased number of heavy weaponry coming across the Russian border into Ukraine, a response to advances made by the Ukrainian army on the ground. Though Borodai insists the separatists' weaponry comes from depots they overran while seizing territory, he admits "volunteers" from Russia keep on reinforcing the rebels' ranks. He calls his Russian trio volunteers and says their presence in the Donetsk region, or Donbass, is proof of the Russian nation's support for the separatists' cause. "The people of Donbass rose on their own. It is normal and natural that we ended up heading this movement because of certain competences, our abilities," he told a news conference in Donetsk earlier this month. "There will be more and more people from Moscow in the DNR (Donetsk People's Republic)," said Borodai, flanked by Strelkov and Antyufeyev. The stout Borodai denies having ever worked for the Russian security services though admits knowing many people there because of his past work as a "professional political expert." He and Strelkov say they first met in 1996 in the Russian region of Chechnya, where Moscow has waged two wars against Islamist separatists since 1994. Borodai says Strelkov has long been his "very good acquaintance". Both said they served in Transdniestria and, more recently, in Crimea. The West says they were aides to the pro-Russian separatist leader of the Black Sea peninsula who was instrumental in Moscow's annexation earlier this year. The two are on both the EU and U.S. sanctions list. Kiev and the European Union say Strelkov, whose real name is Igor Girkin, in fact served in Russia's GRU military intelligence. Strelkov says he served at the rank of colonel in Russia's FSB security service until quitting at the end of March, and has had battlefield experience in Transdniestria, in Bosnia's conflict and in both Chechen wars. While he commanded rebel forces in Slaviansk, the town became a citadel of fierce resistance where at least two Ukrainian military helicopters and one warplane were brought down, giving him a hero status among separatists. Abandoning Slaviansk to Kiev's troops on July 4-5 has, however, dented his reputation and upset some rebels. Strelkov's acquaintances and former colleagues say he developed a reputation as an uncompromising idealist while with the FSB, though his "difficult" character may have been behind what they say was in fact his dismissal from the service. They say the ouster of Ukraine's former, Moscow-allied president Viktor Yanukovich and Kiev's pivot to the West was a turning point for him. An acquaintance in Moscow, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity, said Strelkov was outraged by the events in Kiev and believed Russia must not lose Ukraine. The acquaintance added that Strelkov knew Borodai in Moscow and the two helped one another in business. Strelkov left his home in a Moscow suburb in February traveling to Crimea where he occupied the regional parliament along with other fighters shortly before Russia annexed the predominantly ethnic Russian region. He said people he had known from Crimea then asked him to come to eastern Ukraine. According to his former colleagues at the FSB, successor to the Soviet KGB, one of his favorite books was the Soviet-era science fiction novel "Hard to be God" - a tale of an agent on a mission to a different planet.

^ These are typical Russian tactics (taken from Soviet times.) Train FSB/KGB, special forces and military leaders to go into places as "regular Russian citizens" and then do all the organizing and fighting that the local people can't do or do not want to do. That way you can claim it is the "will of the people" rather than the will of the Russian Government. No one believes these are just ordinary Russians who happen to go from conflict to conflict as "freedom fighters." Of course, now with the downing of Malaysian Air these "freedom fighters" can only be called one thing - terrorists - on scale with Al-Qaeda. I bet that wasn't the Russian Government's plan at the beginning, but this is the new reality and hopefully the rest of the world smartens-up and realizes that simply talking and sanctions are not effective as they have done nothing to stop the violence and in fact have led the pro-Russian terrorists into being more violent. No one cared when ordinary Ukrainians were being killed, but now they care when Brits, Dutch, Malaysians, Canadians, etc are killed. ^

Attacking McD's

From the BBC:
"McDonald's in Russian court case over standards"

Russia's main consumer watchdog has filed a lawsuit in Moscow against McDonald's, urging the restaurant chain to withdraw certain products. Rospotrebnadzor said its inspectors in the city of Novgorod, western Russia, had found violations of food standards by McDonald's. The US fast-food chain could not immediately be reached for comment. Cheeseburgers and Filet-o-Fish are among the foods named in the complaint. Russia is a major market for the firm.  In early April McDonald's suspended work at its three Crimean restaurants, following Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.  McDonald's operates about 400 restaurants in Russia. The first one opened in Moscow in 1990, and the burgers quickly became very popular among Russians. The court case comes at a low point in Russian-US relations, after Washington imposed sanctions on some top Russian officials and firms allegedly linked to the pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine.
 Rospotrebnadzor's complaint alleges contamination of a McDonald's product tested in Novgorod and misleading nutritional information, Russian media report. Separately, Russia's food hygiene authorities have announced a ban on dairy imports from Ukraine.  Russian officials spoke of sub-standard quality controls. Dairy produce accounts for only a small fraction of Ukraine's exports to Russia, Reuters news agency reports. The ban follows similar moves against Ukrainian food and drink exports in recent months, amid a crisis in relations between Kiev and Moscow. The Ukrainian authorities say Russia is using trade to exert political pressure. Previously Russia has also imposed such boycotts on Georgia and Moldova - former Soviet republics, like Ukraine, whose pro-Western policies have angered the Kremlin.

^ This is clearly an overt attack on the West as McDonald's (or as the Russians say "MacDonald's.) I have been to countless restaurants throughout Russia and have seen some real disgusting places that would be shut-down in a minute if any consumer watchdog or government agency came to inspect (or didn't accept a bribe to look the other way.) I'm not saying that every McDonald's, whether in Russia or around the world, is perfect (I have been to a few that haven't met the standards) but to punish every McDonald's operating in your country because of one or even a few is just a clear attack on things non-Russian. ^

Trade Deal

From the G & M:
"Report: Germany to reject EU-Canada trade deal"

Germany is to reject a multi-billion free trade deal between the European Union and Canada which is widely seen as a template for a bigger agreement with the United States, a leading German paper reported on Saturday. Citing diplomats in Brussels, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung said Berlin objects to clauses outlining the legal protection offered to firms investing in the 28-member bloc. Critics say they could allow investors to stop or reverse laws.  The German government could not sign the agreement with Canada “as it has been negotiated now”, reported the paper quoting German diplomats in Brussels. It also said the clauses in the Canada deal were similar to those in the U.S. agreement, which is still under negotiation. “The free trade treaty with Canada is a test for the agreement with the United States,” said one senior official at the Commission in Brussels, according to the paper. If the deal with Canada is rejected “then the one with the United States is also dead”, added the official. Asked about the report, a spokesman for Germany’s Economy Ministry referred to correspondence which outlined Germany’s concerns about investor protection in talks with both countries. “The German government does not view as necessary stipulations on investor protection, including on arbitration cases between investors and the state with states that guarantee a resilient legal system and sufficient legal protection from independent national courts,” wrote Deputy Economy Minister Stefan Kapferer. In the letter, dated June 26, Kapferer took a similar position on investor protection in the still-to-be-agreed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement with the United States. Brussels argues that without these clauses, companies from Canada will not invest in Europe. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso signed a deal in principle last October, leaving officials to work out the final details. Sources said last month that the lower-level talks had run into trouble. In Ottawa, a spokeswoman for Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast did not directly address the report that Germany would reject the deal. Instead, Shannon Gutoskie said Canada and the European Union were making “excellent progress” as they worked to complete the text. Gutoskie said German governments had long preferred treaties with tough investor-protection provisions. “Germany’s bilateral investment treaties contain investor-protection clauses that are far more stringent than those in the Canada-EU agreement,” she said. The Sueddeutsche said EU states will this week receive the treaty for officials to examine in detail before it is signed. All EU members have to sign the agreement for it to take effect. The deal with Canada could increase bilateral trade by a fifth to 26 billion euros a year and the more ambitious one with the United States, if agreed, could encompass a third of world trade and almost half the global economy. Both accords seek to go far beyond tariff cuts and to reduce transatlantic barriers to business, but the talks are extremely complicated.

^ I won't try to pretend I'm an expert on free trade or investment deals because I'm not. I  have seen different free trade deals made in the past. The US-Canadian Free Trade Agreement seemed to work well and then Mexico was added (to become NAFTA) and things started to go sour. While people always say we live in a small world today and that we need to open everything up to everyone (immigration, free trade, etc) that is not always the best option for the countries involved. Maybe the EU and Canada will fix this issue, but maybe they won't anytime soon. ^