Tuesday, September 30, 2014

FLEX Ending

From the MT:
"U.S. Embassy in Moscow Announces Closure of FLEX Student Exchange Program"

Russia has chosen to end a popular exchange program that has brought thousands of Russian students to America, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said in a statement released Tuesday. "We deeply regret this decision by the Russian government to end a program that for 21 years has built deep and strong connections between the people of Russia and the United States," the newly appointed ambassador to Moscow, John Tefft, said in the statement. FLEX, which stands for "Future Leaders Exchange," has sent more than 8,000 Russian high school students to the United States in an effort to foster ties between the ex-Cold War foes.  The program aims to introduce new generations of Russians to American culture and values. FLEX students would spend an academic year living with American families and attending local high schools. The selection process was tough, with many candidates repeatedly applying to gain entry into the coveted program. The program was administered by the U.S. Department of State and established in 1992 by the Freedom Support Act. Many prominent Russians have participated in the program, including Margarita Simonyan, current editor-in-chief of Russia's state-run international broadcaster RT, according to a publication released by the Eurasia FLEX alumni program. Russian government officials have not yet publicly announced or commented on the program's closure.

^ This doesn't surprise me in the least. Russia is on a "crusade" to get rid of all foreign elements within their country and to isolating their people from the international community. FLEX is just another victim. ^


Bosnia Helps Cyprus

From the BBC:
"How Bosnia is helping identify Cypriots murdered 50 years ago"

In the 1960s and 1970s, hundreds of Cypriots disappeared. Now, there is a renewed effort to find out what happened to them - mass graves are being dug up and a laboratory in Sarajevo is helping to identify the bodies.  Forty years ago, Maria Georgiadis  lost her whole family - her mother, her father, her sister and her brother. But she has never been able to lay their bodies to rest. Georgiadis, a Greek Cypriot, was 28 years old at the time and was living in the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia, with her husband and two young children.  The rest of her family lived 10km away in Kythrea, but in August 1974 after a Greek-inspired coup and intervention by Turkish troops, their village became part of a Turkish-Cypriot enclave.  For two months, she tried to find out what had happened to her relatives. Eventually her fears were confirmed when she saw their names listed in a local newspaper - they had all been killed. Chrystala, Andreas, Melitsa  and Christy were four of 2,001 Greek and Turkish Cypriots who went missing in the early 1960s and 1970s - like hundreds of others, their bodies still haven't been found.  "It's as though something is missing. For a long time I was waiting for a knock on the door, for them to come in. Now I just want them to be in one place, where I can go and place some flowers," says Georgiadis.  Today, aged 69, with children and grandchildren of her own, she wants a proper funeral and a grave to visit where she can light a candle. For years, the issue of the missing in Cyprus was mired in politics, and with little communication between Greek and Turkish Cypriots it wasn't until 2007 that they could even agree on an official list of who had disappeared. 
Since then the UN-backed Committee of Missing Persons (CMP) - made up of a representative from both communities as well as UN representative Paul-Henri Arni, has been leading the search for burial sites and organising the excavation, exhumation and identification of bodies. Since 2007, 571 bodies have been found, identified and returned to their families. That means the relatives of a further 1,430 missing Cypriots still wait for news.  " The CMP recently decided to tap into the expertise developed at a laboratory in Sarajevo. The centre in Bosnia Herzegovina specialises in extracting DNA from bone samples and matching them with genetic material from living relatives.
Run by the International Committee for Missing Persons (ICMP), this laboratory was set up in 1996 after the war in the former Yugoslavia left 40,000 people missing.   The ICMP helped to identify almost 30,000 of them using DNA techniques, and since then has shared expertise with scientists in conflict zones and places hit by natural disasters around the world.  Now, as bodies are exhumed in Cyprus, bone samples are sent to Sarajevo for DNA matching.  In the conflicts in both countries, killers dumped bodies in mass graves, and then to try to hide their crimes, moved them, sometimes several times, to different sites. Remains were mixed up and the only way to reassemble the broken bodies so they could be identified was to use DNA.  The CMP in Cyprus has family counsellors to support relatives over the years as they wait for news - each time a potential burial site is discovered, hopes are raised. Georgiadis has been to five excavations. "Every time… my heart was beating in my breast and I was asking will it be now? But nothing. Still I hope that before I die I will be able to bury them. "I have told my children, "If they are found after I die, please put their remains with me.'"   In January this year a mass grave was uncovered at a Cypriot stone quarry in Pareklissia near Limassol - families lined the hills above the site, hoping to see the bones of the men and teenage boys who had been abducted, taken from a bus and killed 40 years earlier.  So far, 35 bodies have been recovered from this site and partial remains sent to the Sarajevo laboratory for analysis.  In Cyprus, the CMP arranged immunity from prosecution for those who come forward with information about where the bodies of the missing are hidden.  But evidence is hard to come by. In some cases those involved in the killings are still alive and many people are afraid to talk.   As the decades pass, the physical landscape changes too, and it becomes harder and harder to locate hidden graves as memories fade and new building alters and sometimes obscures completely, burial sites. One woman on the island, Sevgul Uludag, is credited by both the Greek and Turkish communities as having had a vital role, over the past 12 years, in finding the missing.  An investigative journalist with a popular blog, she carries two mobile phones - one for Turkish Cypriots and the other for Greek Cypriots to call her, anonymously, with information. Uludag receives thousands of calls a year about possible burial sites - she alerts the CMP and investigations begin. She has helped locate hundreds of bodies.  But this voluntary, unpaid work has put her at risk and she's had death threats from people who carried out the killings and those trying to protect them.

History of the Cypriot Crisis:
• 1960 - independence from British Rule leads to power sharing between Greek Cypriot majority and Turkish Cypriot minority
• 1963 and 1964 - inter-communal violence erupts
• 1974 - Cypriot President, Archbishop Makarios, deposed in a coup backed by Greece's military junta - Turkey sends troops to the island
• UN estimates that 165,000 Greek Cypriots fled or were expelled from the north, and 45,000 Turkish Cypriots from the south - 2001 officially people recorded missing
• 1975 - Turkish Cypriots announce establishment of their own state in the north, recognised only by Turkey
• 2007 - The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus begins excavations and exhumations of graves - 571 people identified by August 2014

^ I have been to both Cyprus and Bosnia and out of the two places I found the people of Bosnia to be more friendly and helpful, It seems like they (the Bosnians) are continuing that helpfulness outside of their own country and aiding Cyprus identify their dead. ^


Mossad: Apply Within

From Yahoo:
"Israel's shadowy Mossad looks to recruit online"

It used to be that if you wanted to join one of the world's most secretive espionage organizations you had to sneak into a foreign embassy, answer a cryptic newspaper ad or show up in a nondescript building in Tel Aviv to meet a shadowy recruiter. Now all it takes to apply for a job at Israel's Mossad spy agency is a click of the mouse. The typically hush-hush Mossad revamped its website last week to include a snazzy recruiting video and an online application option for those seeking employment. With versions in Hebrew, English, French, Russian, Arabic and Persian, the sleek site looks to revolutionize the way Israel's legendary agency seeks out potential agents after generations of backdoor, cloak-and-dagger antics. "We must continue to recruit the best people into our ranks so that the Mossad might continue to lead, defend and allow for the continued existence of the state of Israel," Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo said in a statement announcing the launch. "The Mossad's qualitative human capital is the secret of our success." The Mossad, Hebrew for "The Institute," is short for the "Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations." It is the global arm of Israel's vaunted intelligence community and believed to be behind some of the most daring counterterrorism covert operations of the past century. Only a few have come to light, such as the killing of the leaders of Black September — the Palestinian group behind the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games — and Israeli assassinations across Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Alongside its successes, the Mossad has also been exposed in some failures, most notably a 1997 botched attempt to kill future Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal in Jordan when a pair of agents were caught in the act. There's more to the Mossad than its James Bond aura, however, and you are more likely to land a job in its technology, cyber or administration departments than you are to become an international man — or woman — of mystery. But the site alludes to its secretive nature with a video showing satellites and drones hovering as well as men and women dressed in suits hacking into computers and carrying out surveillance operations. A narrator says "your imagination is my reality" and the banner at the top of the page reads "join us to see the invisible and do the impossible." The Mossad has no spokesperson and cannot be contacted directly, with all media inquiries going through the prime minister's office. Aside from its initial announcement, the agency has been tightlipped about their new media strategy as well. But at least one former operative thinks the outreach is a good idea.  "It's the 21st Century. This gives them the chance to reach the kind of people they have never reached before," said Gad Shimron, who served in the Mossad for a decade and later wrote "Mossad Exodus," a book about its secret operation to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel. "They've got nothing to lose. If you throw out a line you may hook a fish." Shimron said the Internet may draw in some weirdos and perhaps a few hostile elements but the Mossad was fully capable or weeding out the best as it cast a larger net. Shimron said the Mossad used to be more of an "old boys network" with friends recruiting their friends and family. Ads offering "interesting jobs" would occasionally show up in the classified sections and those with multiple passports and a proper security clearance from their military service could get a call, inviting them to an interview. But the options for walk-ins were limited. With the increase of video cameras worldwide, physically walking into an Israeli embassy has become more risky for those afraid of being exposed. The Mossad insists its online option is safe and discreet.
"Rest assured that all approaches will be treated with the utmost discretion and confidentiality so that your personal safety is ensured," the instructions read. "When filling in the form, we suggest you consider whether the computer you are using and your location is secure enough. It would be safer to fill in the form using means that are not directly connected to you. We also recommend erasing the browsing history upon completion of the form." While the Mossad's outreach is new, some of its international counterparts, such as the American CIA and the British MI6, have websites filled with historical information and a detailed section on career opportunities. In going online, the Mossad appears to be taking a page out of the playbook of its domestic equivalent, the Shin Bet security service, which launched its online recruiting campaign in 2006. It still maintains a comprehensive website that includes terrorism statistics, an in-depth history of the organization that details its past operations and a vast portal of career opportunities. The Mossad, naturally, is shrouded in more secrecy. The site includes some background on its origins and perhaps its most famous operation — the capture of Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann in the 1960s. But its activity description is vague and dozens of other well-known operations linked to it are nowhere to be found. In his online welcome address Pardo explains why. "Information about the Mossad's activity does not reach the public, and often what is publicized many years after the event is but the tip of the iceberg of almost imaginary activity and operations," he writes. "This website gives you a brief glimpse of the Mossad, and will reveal only a little of its past and activity."

^ This is interesting. It would be cool to work for one of the best intelligence agencies in the world. ^


All-Bagged Out

From the BBC:
"California imposes first state-wide plastic bag ban"

The US state of California has passed the first statewide legislation in the nation banning single-use plastic bags. The bags will be outlawed in grocery and convenience stores to cut down on litter damaging to the environment. The bill, signed by Governor Jerry Brown, will take effect next July.
Plastic manufacturers have challenged the move, however, claiming it will lead to the loss of thousands of jobs and allow grocers to profit from new paper bag fees. It also prohibits "stores from selling or distributing a recycled paper bag at the point of sale unless the store makes that bag available for purchase for not less than $0.10" (£0.06), according to the legislation. Larger grocers, including Wal-Mart and Target, will be required to comply with the law beginning in July 2015, while convenience stores and food marts will have until July 2016.  Plastics trade group The American Progressive Bag Alliance had lobbied hard to stop the ban prior to its passage, but to no avail. "If this law were allowed to go into effect, it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment and fleece consumers for billions so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets," Lee Califf, executive director of the manufacturer trade group, told US media.

The ban:

  • only bans plastic bags at check-outs at grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores and liquor shops

  • does not apply to non-food shops like clothing and electronics stores

  • nor does it apply to the plastic bags used for produce and meat

  • will take effect at larger stores July 2015

  • then expand to smaller businesses in 2016

  • ^ This is pretty stupid. You get more use out of a plastic bag then you do a paper one (and those reusable bags they sell are so small you usually require double or triple the amount of bags that a plastic bag would.) Doesn't California have anything more important to deal with than plastic bags? I guess their Government wants to shift focus from the real issues to this. ^


    Monday, September 29, 2014

    Democratic Russians

    From the MT:
    "Poll Shows Russians Divided on Democracy's Meaning, Importance"

    Democracy is important to most Russians, but they can't seem to agree on what exactly it is, according to a survey published Monday. In the survey, conducted by the state-run pollster Public Opinion Foundation and published by the Kommersant newspaper Monday, 63 percent of respondents said it was important for Russia to have democracy, while another 16 percent said it made no difference to them personally whether Russia was ruled by a democratic system or not.
    Twenty-seven percent of respondents said Russia's most democratic period was the current one, under President Vladimir Putin, while another 12 percent said Putin's previous two terms were more democratic.  Putin has faced harsh criticism from the West in recent months over ongoing events in Ukraine. Russia's annexation of Crimea in March and accusations of Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine have prompted some Western leaders to compare Putin to a tyrant.
    But many respondents to the poll seemed to disagree, with one-third saying Russia currently had "as much democracy as is necessary." Twenty-two percent said there was not much democracy in the country and that transparency and free speech were lacking. Another 11 percent said there is too much democracy, lamenting the fact that "everything is permitted, and everyone does what they want," Kommersant reported.   The poll's results also revealed that there was no common consensus on what exactly democracy entailed, with 43 percent of respondents saying democracy meant "transparency, free speech and free elections" as well as "upholding human rights," while another 12 percent described it as ordinary citizens taking part in the country's management.  Another third of respondents said they could not define democracy.

    ^ This does not surprise me in the least. Russians have always been subjected to the force of a strong leader who always made their decisions for them. First it was the Czar ordering the serfs. Then it was the Soviets ordering the proletariat and today it is the Oligarchs ordering the people. You can't expect a nation of people to understand or want something when they have never been able to fully experience that one thing. I know that in the 1990s many Western organizations came to Russia and other former Soviet Republics to teach them about democracy, but just in years past the Russians do not like to be told anything from foreigners  - especially after learning that everything in the past 70 years was either a lie or a half-truth. I had a Russian history teacher when I studied in Russia that told me she taught history (not sure if it was at a school or university) for decades and that when she started learning the truth in the 1990s she had to take several years off to process the fact that she had been "brainwashed"  her words - and that in turn she had helped brainwashed generations of people to fit the Communist ideology of the time. After she took some time off and learned the truth she went back to teaching (this time she included teaching foreigners about Russia along with Russians about their own country) so that she could help make up for the "crimes" of the past. That is just one example of millions. Anyone 30 and over was taught the same exact thing for 70+ years so that children, parents and grandparents all have the same knowledge and training. Now for the past 20 years we expect all that propaganda that was ingrained into generations of Russians to simply go away. The Russians today continue to do what Russians of the past have always done - when in doubt isolate yourself, keep your head down, your mouth quiet and believe in the saying "We will live and we will see." ^


    ISIS Life

    From the BBC:
    "Islamic State crisis: Mother fears for son at Mosul school"

    When a new school year began in Iraq this month, children from Mosul reportedly returned to a new curriculum created by the jihadist group, Islamic State (IS), which captured the city in June. One mother spoke to the BBC World Service about life in Mosul and her fears for her eight-year-old son.
    I have one son. He's in his third year at school. I've decided to send him back to school but I'd prefer to keep him at home and never let him out. I'm really scared for him. I want to prevent him from seeing horrible things on the street. When children are out on the street they see weapons, armoured vehicles, the militants' black uniforms, convoys of cars. It's very scary for them.  Everything has changed for schoolchildren, even simple things like calling the country the Republic of Iraq has changed - it's now the Islamic State. So all of these things have changed dramatically - the curriculum, the subjects children learn, everything. Physics, mathematics, lots of subjects have been dropped. Even singing and sport, all of this has been stopped.  Normally, when you go to school, you learn songs and things like that. But all of this has been replaced by verses from the Koran - readings and chanting. I'm worried and I'm scared that my son will be brainwashed. There's also another reason why I don't want my son to go to school and that's because his father was killed. We don't know exactly who killed him but it was by IS militants and the reason I'm so scared for my son is because he keeps saying: "These are the people who killed my dad." I don't want him to go out and say these things because these people are ruthless. They would do horrible things to him. Life is very difficult. We have no electricity, no gas - we cook on wood - and everything is very expensive. For five days in a row we haven't had any electricity. There is no freedom - the Islamic State has forced the niqab [a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear] on us. You cannot go out as a woman without a "protector" - a husband, a father or a brother. And it looks like they've taken us back many centuries to the year 10 in the Islamic calendar [AD 632, the year of the Prophet Muhammad's death]. If I could leave, I would. But we are like prisoners - it's not possible. We are like prisoners under their control. There are people who accuse us of wanting to live under the rule of Islamic State willingly, but it's not like that. It is forced upon us - we are their prisoners. There's nothing we can do about it - we don't have any means to fight them or do anything against them.
    They will cut your tongue out even if you call them Isis - you have to say Islamic State. There's no freedom for youngsters - no cigarettes, no choice in how they dress, nothing. Everything has been taken from the young generation. Even now, the new rules say you cannot leave your house unless you know that you are visiting someone, and then you have to tell them where you are going. They are even checking houses for former police officers. We don't know where they are taking them or what they are doing with them - no-one knows anything. There is no future, the future is gone.

    ^ This just reinforces the need to make sure the Muslim extremists do not gain any more land or power. ^


    When The Bough Breaks...

    From the BBC:
    "Ukraine nationalists tear down Kharkiv's Lenin statue"

    Nationalists have torn down a statue of Lenin in the centre of Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, in a move supported by officials. People cheered and leapt for joy as the statue came crashing down.
    Pro-Russian demonstrators in the largely Russian-speaking city defended the statue in February, when President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted. Kharkiv escaped the violent unrest which swept through east Ukraine's other regions, Donetsk and Luhansk. A fragile ceasefire has been in place for weeks between pro-Russian separatists in those two regions. On Sunday night, when nationalist protesters had already gathered around the statue for a "Kharkiv is Ukraine" rally, the governor of Kharkiv region, Ihor Baluta, signed an order to dismantle the statue. Some correspondents say the order was probably a last-minute face-saving move. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook (in Russian) that he had given orders for police to ensure only the safety of people, "not the idol".  "Lenin? Let him fall..." he wrote. "As long as people don't get hurt. As long as this bloody communist idol does not take more victims with it when it goes." However, Ukrainian media reported that police had begun an investigation into "vandalism". One protester was reportedly injured in the head as the statue was dismantled.

    ^ You really can't blame the Ukrainians (or anyone who faced arrest, deportation, murder under the Soviet dictatorship that Lenin created.) I have seen the footage many times before throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I know that Russia gets furious when these things happen, but what do they expect? Lenin was an ethnic Russian and the Kyiv Government (the majority of whom all lived under Moscow's tight control in the Soviet Union) is fighting ethnic-Russian terrorists in the eastern part of their country not to mention the fact that Russia itself invaded and annexed the Crimea. To the Ukraine (and the rest of the world) it is Russian/Soviet history repeating itself. The Ukrainians have had 20 + years of freedom from Russian domination and do not want to go back and this is one symbolic gesture to show that determination. They may not be able to defeat the Russian military but they can do other acts with just as much meaning and power as a gun. ^



    From the Stars and Stripes:
    "Afghanistan’s new government set to sign BSA on Tuesday"

    One of the first acts of new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s unity government will be to sign a long-awaited Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States that would allow U.S. troops to remain in the country after this year. Ghani’s inauguration Monday marked the country’s first peaceful transition of power in more than four decades. It also capped nearly six months of discord over disputed elections and worry by the U.S. and its allies that an agreement would not be signed in time to keep nearly 10,000 U.S. troops plus allied forces in the country in an advise-and-assist mission after combat forces withdraw at the end of this year. That agreement is to be signed Tuesday.
    Ghani’s first act as president was to appoint his main rival in the fractious elections, Abdullah Abdullah, to the newly created post of chief executive in the U.S.-brokered government. Ghani, 65, a former finance minister, emerged as the winner in a contentious five-month-long process involving two rounds of voting, charges of fraud by both sides and a U.N.-supervised recount. He is the country’s second president since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban regime in 2001. Karzai, who has been in power since 2002, was constitutionally barred from serving a third term.
    Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Ghani and Abdullah in a statement issued in Washington. He also praised Karzai for having “helped profoundly shape one of the most challenging periods in Afghan history” — although he noted the at times prickly relationship between Karzai and Washington saying it had been “punctuated by disagreements.” “This is a beginning not an ending, and with all beginnings the toughest decisions are still ahead,” said Kerry who brokered the power-sharing deal between Ghani and Abdullah. “As Afghanistan enters this new chapter in its history, the United States looks forward to deepening its enduring partnership with a sovereign, unified and democratic Afghanistan.” The incoming administration faces a host of immediate problems, including an escalating Taliban insurgency, a severe budget shortfall and tense relations with the United States that have deteriorated in Karzai’s last months in office. Ambassador James Cunningham will sign the security agreement on behalf of the United States. The agreement has been ready for signature since before the first round of elections in April, but Karzai refused to sign, leaving that act to his successor. Security was tight throughout the capital, with squads of soldiers and armed police deployed along thoroughfares and at intersections. Traffic was unusually light because the government declared Monday a holiday. Schools, universities and administrative offices were closed for the day. Ghani, a former finance minister in Karzai’s government, lived in the United States for most of the 1980s and 1990s, during the Soviet occupation and subsequent Taliban government. He is also a former World Bank official.

    ^ It will be interesting to see how the US and other countries treat Afghanistan now that ISIS is a bigger threat than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. ^


    Sunday, September 28, 2014

    A Chance Disability

    From the Stars and Stripes:
    "Employers who look beyond disabilities find dedicated workers"

    Nearly a decade ago, Marine Lance Cpl. Kyle Anderson, a can-do guy out of suburban St. Paul, Minn., who was a state high school wrestling champion, was decorated for pulling a wounded buddy out of the line of fire in Iraq. Days later, in October 2004, while on patrol, Anderson was cut down by a roadside bomb that sent pieces of shrapnel through his helmet and into his skull. Anderson’s life was saved by surgeons at Baghdad Hospital. And that marked the beginning of years of medical work to repair his injured body and brain at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center. And therapy — physical, occupational and emotional — that continues today to help him recover lost speech, coordination and strength. This Miracle Marine, who lives independently with the help of family members, two years ago went back to work. Following a successful housekeeping internship at the VA that was part of his therapy, Anderson was hired part-time to stock shelves and manage refrigerated goods by Clay Schultze, store manager at a Walgreens. “I’m always busy,” Anderson said with a warm grin that transcended his speech impediment. “Tuesday is our busiest day. All our vendors show up. I like people. I go home then and rest.” It’s been five years since the Great Recession. Today, more Minnesotans than ever are working and the economic recovery has gained job-generating traction. Yet one group — people with disabilities, whether acquired through injury or congenital — who want to work have yet to recover from the economic downturn, according to government statistics and advocacy groups. “About 70 percent of adults with physical or mental disabilities, such as autism or brain damage, are unemployed,” said Margaret Li, executive director of Minnesota Business Leadership Network, a coalition of employers that are committed to doing more. “They want to work, but they can’t find employers who will hire them. Taxpayers have an interest, too. Because the more people with disabilities who are hired and can support themselves, the less we pay in (Social Security disability income and other public programs).” Anderson loves to work because of the satisfaction he gets from accomplishing his job, interacting with colleagues and customers, and earning a wage. “He knew everybody’s name the second day he worked,” Schultze said. “He’s popular, a good worker and a problem solver. He’s always showing me ways to reorganize the cooler.” Talking to Anderson, 29, and his colleagues, his VA therapists and his proud father last week called to mind the phrase: “the dignity of work.” Anderson, although restricted in strength and able to use only one arm, is the embodiment of pride, determination and goodwill. He’s the kind of guy most of us would be proud to call a colleague. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development earlier this year, about 27 percent of Minnesotans over age 16 with a disability had a job, compared with 22 percent nationally, based on 2012 figures. Meanwhile, the percentage of working-age Minnesotans who work is about 70 percent, three times the employment rate for those with disabilities. To be sure, some folks with severe physical or mental disabilities don’t work. And many others can’t find work, say advocates. The demographic experts and labor economists say that, as the baby boomers age and continue to retire in their 60s, the economy eventually will face labor shortages. Increasingly it will be smart business, as well as the right thing to do, to hire those with disabilities. In August, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton directed state agencies to hire more employees with disabilities, seeking to reverse a decline in the state’s hiring of disabled people. Dayton’s goal: to increase employment of people with disabilities to 7 percent by 2018, up from 3.2 percent in 2013. “We think this will make a huge difference at the state level, and hopefully spread to other companies and businesses,” said Alan Parnes, a member of the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans. His is one of about eight state councils and advocacy groups that helped craft the executive order. Advocates say such initiatives help employers get beyond any “roadblocks” to hiring people with disabilities, including perceived reliability or transportation issues. “A big piece of it is partnering with nonprofits in the community, such as Goodwill Easter Seals, which trains and places people with disabilities,” said Philomena Satre, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Wells Fargo. “Rather than wait for these candidates to apply, we need to get out there and talk to them about the jobs, the career paths and how we will support them, including through our veterans and disabilities networks.” Satre added that retention rates are higher among the disabled than the general employee population. “It’s kind of like they have overcome so much and they are so appreciative of the opportunity,” she said. Jim Peet, 65, a senior IT business consultant at Wells Fargo, injured himself in a trampoline accident in 1987 and needs crutches to walk. “I walk like Frankenstein,” Peet quipped. He can’t imagine not working and plans to volunteer to stay active after retirement. “Work is affirming because you’ve got to get dressed, you work with your work colleagues, some of whom become friends, and you get paid,” Peet said. “You don’t go stale.” Pete also says he is lucky because he was hired by a supervisor who overlooked his limited IT background “and took a chance on me.” Joey Carlson, 38, is a marketing-communications specialist at U Care who became a quadriplegic at 17 because of a car accident. He also was laid off from a marketing job at Medtronic during the Great Recession. “It was tough to get laid off, just like every other employee who’s been laid off … but I got a new job (in 2012),” Carlson said. “I got an MBA and got a job at U Care where I lead all communications on Medicaid products, such as the website and brochures.” Carlson said he could live on Social Security disability insurance. “But I’ve always been a driven person. It’s nice to have more income. The real reason I work has more to do with purpose and getting out every day.”

    ^ Having lived and worked with people of various disabilities I know that the majority just want to be treated and given the same opportunities to prove themselves as everyone else. Disabled people (whether veterans or not) deserve to be given the same chances as everyone else. More states, countries and companies need to provide that chance to them. ^


    Russian Finger

    From the MT:
    "Russia to Launch Pilot Project to Fingerprint Visa Applicants"

    Russian embassies and consulates in four countries will soon launch a pilot project requiring visa applicants to submit their fingerprints, Interfax reported Sunday, citing the Foreign Ministry's consular division. Starting in January 2015, Russian consulates in Britain, Denmark, Myanmar and Namibia will begin implementing fingerprinting technology, the report said. The initiative will help determine the feasibility of collecting biometric data at other Russian diplomatic and consular facilities, according to Yevgeny Ivanov, the director of the Foreign Ministry's consular department.
    Ivanov said that the project had been under consideration for several years and that it was not intended to indicate a tightening of requirements for Russian visa applicants.  He added that Schengen countries are set to begin collecting the biometric data of Russian visa applicants next year.

    ^ This seems like a waste of time and money. I know countries like the US do the same thing both at their embassies and then again at their borders, but they have the technology and means to do it while Russia doesn't. Russia can't even implement their new internal passport card (the Universal Card) to large portions of their population. I remember being in Russia when they tried to replace the old Soviet Internal Passports with new Russian ones and that deadline kept getting further and further out because of lack of funding and supplies. There are more important things that Russia needs to focus on now than this. ^


    Reset - Nyet!

    From MT:
    "Russia's Lavrov Says Ties With Washington Need 'Reset 2.0'"

    Moscow called on Sunday for a new "reset 2.0" in relations with Washington, saying the situation in Ukraine that had led to Western sanctions against Russia was now improving thanks to Kremlin peace initiatives.  Washington and Brussels accuse Moscow of supporting a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine and have imposed financial sanctions, which they have repeatedly tightened since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March.  The conflict has brought relations between Moscow and the West to their lowest level since the end of the Cold War. U.S. President Barack Obama said last week that the sanctions could be lifted if Russia takes the path of peace and diplomacy.  In a television interview, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was time to repeat the "reset," Washington's name for an attempt to improve ties early in Obama's presidency.
    "We are absolutely interested in bringing the ties to normal but it was not us who destroyed them. Now they require what the American would probably call a 'reset'," Lavrov said, according to a transcript of the interview on his ministry's website.  Shortly after Obama took office in 2009, his then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Lavrov with a red "reset" button intended to signal a fresh start to relations that had been strained under Obama's predecessor George W. Bush.  In a diplomatic gaffe much mocked at the time, the button bore a Russian label that said "overload" instead of "reset;" the two words are similar in Russian.  Lavrov said that thanks to "initiatives of the Russian President," the situation was improving on the ground in Ukraine, where a ceasefire has been in place for several weeks.  The Sept.5 ceasefire is largely holding though some fighting has continued in places including the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.  "The ceasefire is taking shape, though of course not without problems. Monitoring mechanisms have been introduced, talks between Russia, the European Union and Ukraine have started, gas talks have restarted," Lavrov said.  Western countries say thousands of Russian troops have fought in Ukraine and accuse Russia of sending weapons, including a surface-to-air missile used to shoot down a Malaysian airliner over rebel-held territory in July. Moscow denies participating in the conflict or arming the rebels.  Lavrov also repeated Russian criticism of the U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria, saying Washington was guilty of a "double standard" for refusing to cooperate with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally.  Lavrov said that despite the Western sanctions, Russia did not feel isolated on the world stage. Moscow has responded to the sanctions by banning imports of most food from Western countries.  "We feel no isolation. But, having said that, I want to emphasize in particular that we do not want to go to extremes and abandon the European and American directions in our foreign economic cooperation," Lavrov said.

    ^ As much as I like the country of Russia and the Russian people as a whole I don't think the US (or EU, Canada or any other country) should "reset" their relations with Russia at this time. To do so would only validate what Russia has done (and continues to do) in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine. It would be the same kind of appeasement that France and England made with Nazi Germany in the 1930s after Germany took over Czechoslovakia. If Russia really wants peace and good relations with other countries then they need to stop bullying them, stop invading, stop the annexations, stop supplying troops and weapons to known- terrorists. Only then can things proceed in a positive way. You can tell that the sanctions against Russia are working by the way the Russian Government tries to carefully word their statement that they aren't. Most of the time you don't even have to read between the lines in official media sources the way you had to during Soviet times. Also Russia not joining the international fight against ISIS shows how stubborn they are. Even though Russia has had many terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists and ISIS has specifically included Russia as one of its targets the Russian Government would rather support the Syrian dictatorship then protect it's own people from attack. ^


    Catalan Speak

    From the BBC:
    "Catalonia president signs independence referendum decree"

    The president of the Spanish region of Catalonia has signed a decree calling for a referendum on independence. Artur Mas wants Catalonia to hold a Scottish-style vote on 9 November, but does not have the backing of the central government in Madrid. Spain quickly denounced the move, calling the plan unconstitutional. Catalonia, which includes Barcelona, is one of Spain's richest and most highly industrialised regions, and also one of the most independent-minded. On 19 September Catalonian lawmakers voted by a margin of 106 to 28 in favour of authorising the referendum, known locally as a "consultation".  Two hours after Mr Mas signed the decree, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz made Madrid's position clear: "This referendum will not be held because it is unconstitutional," she said. The prime minister is expected to take action at a special cabinet meeting early next week, and is likely to take the dispute to the country's Constitutional Court. However, Mr Mas says he can use local laws to hold the vote. The question now will be on how far the Spanish government is prepared to go in order to stop a referendum, our correspondent adds.

    The referendum's two questions

    "Do you want Catalonia to be a state?

    "If so, do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?"

    Soon after the decree was signed, the Catalan hash tag EstemConvocats9N ("We called it for 9 November") became the highest trending topic on Spanish Twitter. Until recently, few Catalans had wanted full independence, but Spain's painful economic crisis has seen a surge in support for separation, correspondents say. There is resentment over the proportion of Catalan taxes used to support poorer regions. The pro-independence movement in Catalonia believes that the region can go ahead with the independence vote after the decree is signed. Earlier this month hundreds of thousands of Catalans formed a "V" for "vote" along two of Barcelona's main roads calling for their right to vote.

    ^ I have many relatives in Catalonia and the majority of them want independence. I also have many relatives in Quebec and many want independence as well. Spain is playing the big-brother bully here. They should follow Canada's and the UK's example and allow for the independence vote to happen. If they don't then the government in Madrid will push more and more Catalans (and probably other minorities in Spain) further from a united Spain. Spain hasn't done a very good job in recent years. Under Franco, Catalans and other non-Spanish groups were openly discriminated against. Their language, culture and traditions were banned and many were imprisoned and/or killed. When Franco died and Spain became a democracy in 1975 the Spanish Government did everything it could to hide the crimes and "forget" the past 30+ year dictatorship. That was the wrong move. Had Spain then (or now) openly worked to confront it's past mistakes then maybe the Catalans wouldn't feel forced to govern themselves. Many fear a return of a central-Madrid doing everything they can to ban and discriminate anything non-Spanish. ^


    Friday, September 26, 2014

    Visiting Government

    I saw a report about how accessible the Legislature Building (ie Congress or Parliament) in different countries are to ordinary citizens and foreigners. I decided to look and see how many legislature official websites had a section on visiting. Here are the places that are open to the public:

    - European Union, Albania, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Rwanda, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and Zambia

    Biometric Travel

    Biometric Passports have been around for over a decade now and still many countries/territories do not use them. Here's a list of which places use them and when available the price their cost.

    Biometric Passport, 10 Year Validity:
    -          Albania (50 Euros), Algeria ($25 US), Argentina (400 P), Armenia, Australia ($244 AD), Austria (75.90 Euros), Azerbaijan, Canada ($160 CD), China, Croatia (390 K), Cyprus (70 Euros), Czech Republic (600 CK), Denmark (625 DK), France (86 Euros), Germany (59 Euros), Gibraltar (72.50 Pounds), Guernsey (72.50 Pounds), Hungary (14,000 F), Hong Kong (SAR), Hong Kong (BNO), Iceland (65 Euros), India (1,500 R), Ireland (80 Euros), Isle of Man (72.50 Pounds), Israel, Italy (116 Euros), Japan, Jersey (72.50 Euros), Kazakhstan,  Liechtenstein (250 F), Lithuania (48 Euros), Macao, Macedonia (22 Euros), Malta (70 Euros), Montenegro (40 Euros), Netherlands (66.96 Euros), Norway ($75 US), Pakistan ($48 US), Poland (140 Zl), Russia (2,500 Rubles), Serbia (2,000 D), Slovakia (33 Euros), Slovenia (42.05 Euros), Spain (25.50 Euros), Taiwan ($45 US), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine (377.15 H), United Kingdom (72.50 Pounds), United States ($135 US)

    Biometric Passport, 5 Year Validity:
    -          Afghanistan ($100 US), Belgium (71 Euros), Brazil ($156.07 US), Bulgaria (20 Euros), Bosnia & Herzegovina (40 KM), Chile ($103 US), Congo, Rep. ($20 US), Estonia (28.76 Euros), Finland (48 Euros), Greece (84.40 Euros), Indonesia ($15 US), Iran ($37 US), Latvia (28.46 Euros), Lebanon ($200 US), Luxembourg (30 Euros), Malaysia (300 R), Maldives, Morocco (300 D), New Zealand ($140 NZ), Panama ($100 US), Philippines (950 P), Portugal, Romania (59 Euros), Somalia,  Sweden (350 K), Switzerland (140 F), Thailand ($35 US), Turkey

    Biometric Passport, 6 Year Validity:     -          Costa Rica ($32 US)

    Biometric Passport, 7 Year Validity:   -          Moldova (45 Euros)
    Biometric, Unknown Validity:
    -          Andorra, Bahamas, Belarus, Bermuda, Botswana, Dominican Republic (1,200 P), Egypt, Georgia, Ghana, Kosovo, Mauritania, Nigeria ($65 US), Qatar (100 R), Saudi Arabia (150 R), Singapore, South Korea, South Sudan, Sudan ($100 US), Togo, Uzbekistan, Venezuela

    Not only does it amaze me that s many countries and territories still do not have biometric passports, but also those countries that have biometric passports and only made them have a 5 year validity for adults. The countries that have 10 year validity passports have them for adults while only children have them for 5 years so maybe that's one reason it surprises me  - kind of like the country thinks of their citizens as children so they can only have 5 year passport validity. The other reason is that many places require your passport to have 6 months remaining to visit and so having a 5 year passport validity seems like a waste. It is also interesting to see how much a country charges their citizens for a passport when you look at the same type and validity in another country and the price is much lower (or much higher.) I guess for most travel is not a right and the cost of a passport helps enforce that.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2014

    Rosh Hashanah!

    From UPI:
    "Rosh Hashanah celebrated globally, as Jews usher in the Hebrew New Year"

    World leaders, celebrities and major corporations have come together to wish the world "Shana Tova," or "a good year," in recognition of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year celebration.
    Marking the end of the Hebrew calendar, Wednesday's Rosh Hashanah festivities and observances will bring the Hebrew year 5774 to a close and kick off 5775 at sunset on Friday with the sound of a Shofar, a hollowed ram's horn blown throughout the new year to remind believers to consider the year gone by.  Celebrants will spend the week with friends, family and in synagogue, solemnly reflecting on the past year and seeking forgiveness from those they have wronged.  But Rosh Hashanah isn't only about introspection and anticipation -- it's also about honey! In the hopes of a sweet year, Jewish people around the world will enjoy honey cake and honey-dipped treats like apples and challah. They will then reflect for 10 days until Yum Kippur, when they will fast for 25 hours.
    ^ It occurred to me that I usually post things for Christmas and Easter, but not Rosh Hashanah. So Happy New Year! (L'Shanah Tovah!) ^


    German Incest

    From the DW:
    "German Ethics Council in favor of lifting ban on incest with siblings"

    The German Ethics Council has made a daring move and opposed the criminalization of incest between siblings. The matter was put to the council after appeals made by a Leipzig man over a relationship with his sister. The German Ethics Council has called for the repeal of the prohibition of incest between siblings. In a statement released on Wednesday, the majority of the council's members requested that consensual sexual relations between siblings of legal age should no longer be a crime.
    Among other things, the council argued that the risk of genetic impairment to a child born from an incestuous relationship doesn't completely warrant the current ban and that the social taboos remain even without an implemented law. A spokeswoman for Angela Merkel's CDU party, Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, responded to the Ethics Council's vote saying that the abolition of the law against incest would give out the wrong signal. "Abolishing criminal punishment against incestuous actions within a family would go completely against protecting the undisturbed development of children," she added. According to section 173 of the German criminal code, sexual relations between siblings or between parents and their children is forbidden. The Ethic Council voted on the matter due to a case of two siblings from the eastern German city of Leipzig. The brother and sister in question, Patrick and Susan, were not brought up together and first met at the age of 24 and 16, respectively. After becoming a couple, they went on to have four children. In 2008, Patrick was convicted for his sexual relationship with his sister, who was only allowed to keep their youngest child. The Leipzig man appealed against his conviction in the German Federal Constitutional Court in 2008 and the European Court of Human Rights in 2012 - both of which reaffirmed the illegality of incest in German law. As a result, the majority of 25 Ethics Council members, including Chairman Christiane Woopen, have called for the repeal of section 173. These 14 members voting in favor of the change believe the Leipzig case was an unjustified interference in the sexual self-determination between two adult siblings in a consensual relationship. "Of all the views that the German Ethics Council has presented, this is the first to directly touch upon a deeply-rooted taboo in society," said Woopen. Nine members of the Ethics Council voted for continued adherence to the ban, highlighting the importance of roles within a family, which they say incest threatens to destabilize. Two members of the Ethics Council abstained from the vote.

    ^ I don't think I want to live in a country that allows incest (especially when their so-called Ethics Council is for it.) I guess the eastern part of Germany and the southern part of the United States share the same stereotypes. ^


    Sunday, September 21, 2014

    Kyiv Vetting

    From the BBC:
    "Ukraine crisis: One million civil servants to be screened"

    Ukraine will screen about one million civil servants to root out corrupt practices from the past, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk has said. The parliament passed a law on Tuesday, allowing the removal of government officials from their posts. All those who worked under ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and also former senior Communist and KGB members will be affected. Ukraine has had months of unrest since Mr Yanukovych was ousted in February. Government troops had been fighting pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions for months, until a truce was signed on 5 September. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of sending its troops and heavy weaponry to help the rebels - a claim denied by the Kremlin. "About one million civil servants of different kinds will come under this law, including the whole cabinet of ministers, the interior ministry, the intelligence services, the prosecutor's office," Mr Yatseniuk said in a televised cabinet meeting.  Correspondents say the issues of vetting and corruption are emotional subjects for many in Ukraine, who want to cleanse the government of Mr Yanukovych's influence. The law on "lustration" - the cleansing of the ranks of power - was approved under huge pressure from activists, who took part in mass protests against Mr Yanukovych.  The bill was finally passed after several failed attempts when speaker Okexandr Turchynov warned MPs he would not allow them to leave parliament without a successful result.  The bill was approved on the same day as a new law granting self-rule to parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
    ^ The Ukraine (along with the majority of former Soviet Republics) needs to clean-out their government from the top-down. It should have been done after December 1991, but better late than never. Not only will former Communists and KGB be investigated but also corrupt officials of any party. Hopefully it will be successful and no just for show. ^


    Not So Secret

    From the BBC:
    "White House security stepped up after intrusions"

    The US Secret Service says it has stepped up security at the White House and launched a "comprehensive review" of procedures there after two attempted breaches in 24 hours. The more serious incident saw a man wielding a knife enter the building on Friday, prompting a partial evacuation. President Obama was not present at the time of the incident. The following day, another man drove up to a security gate. Both men have since been arrested. The man involved in Friday's incident, Omar Gonzalez, was only stopped after entering the North Portico doors, the Secret Service said. The review of security was initiated by director Julia Pierson, who also ordered "the immediate enhancement of officer patrols and surveillance capabilities" around the White House. A White House spokesman said the president expected the review to be conducted "with the same professionalism and commitment to duty that we and the American people expect from the US Secret Service".

    ^ It seems the Secret Service has more problems. From hiring hookers to security breaches. I have seen first-hand how "effective" the security is at the White House. Several years ago I was showing some friends around DC and we got a little lost and ended up right at the Rose Garden (with no one stopping us, etc.) It was also on the day they had some official from Israel there. When we realized where we were we turned around, but the fact that we got so close without any security dumbfounds me to this day. Maybe the Secret Service isn't doing such a good job at protecting government officials as the American people are made to believe. ^


    Chechen Draft

    From the MT:
    "Russia to Start Drafting Chechen Men Into Army, Kadyrov Says"

    Five years after a brutal war between Russian forces and Chechen separatists officially ended, the first 500 Chechen men will be drafted to serve in the Russian army, its leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said. "I was lucky enough to meet with [Russian] Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu," Kadyrov said late Thursday in a post on Instagram. "Of particular note, the minister — at our request — made the decision to this year draft 500 young [Chechen] men for regular military service." "This is the first time in many years that this has been done. In the future, the number of draftees will increase," he added. It remains unclear whether the men will serve together or whether they will be sent to various other Russian army units. During the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, a number of Chechen fighters have joined separatists in the east of that country, though Kadyrov has denied the presence of any "Chechen battalions" there and estimated the number of the men at only about two dozen. While Russia has a universal military draft for men aged 18-27, two bitter separatist wars in Chechnya that began in 1994 have resulted in the republic's inhabitants being made exempt from compulsory service. After its separatists were largely suppressed, Chechnya in 2003 approved a constitution that granted the region a significant degree of autonomy while proclaiming it a part of Russia. But the "counter-terrorism operation" against separatists continued until 2009, when Moscow proclaimed it officially over. In subsequent years, Chechnya's young men have been drafted for armed service, but only as interior troops stationed within the republic — part of a force that was widely seen as Kadyrov's personal army. Kadyrov said in August that he had ordered Chechnya's military commander Akhmed Dzheirakhanov to secure the draft of Chechen men into the army.
    "Chechnya has tens of thousands of young men who are ready to become soldiers," he said on Instagram at that time. "But for reasons not understood by anybody and not expressed by anybody, they are not being sent into the army. The reasons, upon which the Russian Defense Ministry and other military agencies refused to comment according to news site Gazeta,ru, may include the bitter hostility that conscripts from other Russian regions may feel toward Chechen soldiers, or concerns about the soldiers' willingness to follow the orders of Russian commanders. Russian attempts to resume the draft of Chechen men have also been met with protests from the republic's residents, who argued their sons could face too much danger if required to serve in the same army that fought them in Chechnya. Chechnya, whose inhabitants rebelled against Moscow for hundreds of years since tsarist times, is renowned for its warrior culture, and a number of its men became officers in the Soviet army. One notable example is late Air Force General Dzhokhar Dudayev, a nuclear bomber pilot, who in 1994 as then-president of the Chechen republic led the separatist rebellion against Russia.

    ^ This just seems like a very bad idea all around. The Chechen soldiers will experience horrible hazing and abuse from the Russians (even ethnic Russians do everything in their power not to serve in the Russian military because of the abuse.) It seems Kadyrov just wants more power and influence and sending Chechens to different regions will enable him to do that. His post-war Chechnya has become a mini-Islamist state where patrols force women to cover their heads (even though Russian law allows religious freedom) and he built one of the largest mosques. I guess he is not satisfied with controlling Chechnya and wants more (I'm sure he is helping supply the ethnic Russian terrorists in the Ukraine with Chechen fighters - with Russia's approval.) Here's a question for Kadyrov: if so many Chechens want to be soldiers then why don't they join the regular Russian forces? You don't have to just be a conscript. ^


    Protest March

    From the BBC:
    "Ukraine crisis: Thousands march in Moscow anti-war rally"

    Tens of thousands of people are marching in Moscow in protest against Russia's involvement in the Ukraine conflict.  People are chanting "No to war!" and "Stop lying!" Similar rallies are taking place in St Petersburg and other Russian cities. Ukraine accuses Russia of arming rebels in the east and sending Russian troops across the border. Moscow denies this. More than 3,000 people have died in fighting since April. A truce was agreed on 5 September but there have been repeated violations since then. The fighting began after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula in March - a move condemned by Ukraine and the West.  Demonstrators - with both Russian and Ukrainian flags - are marching from Pushkin Square to Sakharov Boulevard in central Moscow. Organisers earlier said they hoped up to 50,000 people would take part to denounce what they described as Russia's "aggressive foreign policy". It is Russia's first major anti-war rally since the fighting began five months ago in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

    ^ It's nice to see that not every Russian has drank the Kool-Aid. ^


    Friday, September 19, 2014

    Scots' Nay

    From the BBC:
    "Scottish referendum: Scotland votes 'No' to independence"

    Scotland has voted to stay in the United Kingdom after voters decisively rejected independence. With the results in from all 32 council areas, the "No" side won with 2,001,926 votes over 1,617,989 for "Yes". Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond called for unity and urged the unionist parties to deliver on more powers. Prime Minister David Cameron said he was delighted the UK would remain together and that commitments on extra powers would be honoured "in full". Mr Cameron said the three main unionist parties at Westminster would now follow through with their pledge of more powers for the Scottish Parliament. He announced that Lord Smith of Kelvin, who led Glasgow's staging of the Commonwealth Games, would oversee the process to take forward the commitments, with new powers over tax, spending and welfare to be agreed by November, and draft legislation published by January.  The prime minister also acknowledged that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over their affairs. And he promised a solution to the West Lothian question - the fact that Scottish MPs can vote on English issues at Westminster, and not the other way round.

    In other developments:

    • US President Barack Obama welcomed Scots' decision to stay in the UK. "Through debate, discussion, and passionate yet peaceful deliberations, they reminded the world of Scotland's enormous contributions to the UK and the world," he said.
    • Police Scotland said Thursday's vote "passed off smoothly" with just six arrests across the country mainly for alleged breaches of the peace and assaults.
    • Share prices rose as Scotland voted against independence.
    • Polling officials said they were investigating 10 cases of suspected electoral fraud at polling stations in Glasgow.
    • Royal Bank of Scotland said it would keep its headquarters in Scotland following the "No" vote.
    • Wales's First Minister Carwyn Jones has called for more funding for his country after Scotland voted to stay in the Union.
    • Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said a vote on the future of Northern Ireland's border was not necessary following Scotland's 'No' vote.

    The result became a mathematical certainty at 06:08, as the returning officer in Fife announced a comfortable No vote. Shortly afterwards, Mr Salmond said he accepted the defeat and called for national unity. He told supporters: "The unionist parties made vows late in the campaign to devolve more powers to Scotland. "Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course - as a reminder, we have been promised a second reading of a Scotland Bill by March 27 next year.  And the first minister said: "Whatever else we can say about this referendum campaign, we have touched sections of the community who have never before been touched by politics, these sections of the community have touched us and touched the political process." Speaking in Downing Street, Mr Cameron said the result was decisive. He said: "Now the debate has been settled for a generation, or as Alex Salmond has said: 'Perhaps for a lifetime'. "So there can be no disputes, no re-runs; we have heard the will of the Scottish people." The prime minister also spoke of the implications for the other nations of the UK.

    ^ It was a close call but Scotland has decided to stay within the United Kingdom. What I like about all of this is the other regions of the UK (ie Wales and Northern Ireland) are now pouncing for more regional powers for themselves. They seem like vultures circling for the results - whether it was a "yes" or a "no" to get more for themselves. ^


    Singing Protest

    From MT:
    "U.S. Singer Rufus Wainwright Slams Russia's 'Gay Propaganda' Law at Moscow Concert"

    American singer Rufus Wainwright condemned a Russian law forbidding the promotion of homosexual relations to minors during a concert in Moscow on Thursday, saying it was "disgusting," to a storm of applause. The law was especially offensive, the openly gay singer said, because "it's really young gay people who are under 18 who need our help, and need to learn and feel loved and accepted. To cut them out is a terrible crime." Wainwright then dedicated his next song "The Gay Messiah" to his "favorite gay Russian," composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
    Tickets to Wainwright's concert at Dom Muzyki were marked "18 plus" because of the law, he said.
    Wainwright's homosexuality was addressed early on in the show when he said "I'm gay," again to much applause from the audience. Despite his comments, it seems likely that this will not be Wainwright's last visit to Moscow. He enthused about the Tretyakov Gallery and said that his husband, German arts administrator Jörn Weisbrodt, had been to Moscow many times and even wanted the couple to move there.

    ^ People seem to forget about Russia's anti-gay law (mostly due to the Russian war in the Ukraine.) It's good that people - especially Russians - see that this is discrimination and that celebrities (gay or straight) make their voices heard. ^


    Wednesday, September 17, 2014

    Russian Scotland

    From MT:
    "11 Reasons Why Scotland Should Join Russia Following a 'Yes' Vote"

    As Scotland geared up to vote on breaking away from the U.K. on Thursday, The Moscow Times came into possession of a secret low-level memo produced by the Russian government discussing how to deal with possible Scottish independence.

    How to Persuade Scotland to Become Part of Russia

    1) Raise the Russian navy ensign — the blue-on-white St. Andrew's Cross — over the Kremlin and all government buildings once the Yes vote for independence comes in early Friday morning. As the Scottish flag is a white-on-blue St. Andrew's Cross, it will be the perfect welcoming signal to the new nation.
    2) Remind the Scots how many of them have come to Russia and made their mark here. Stress the 17th-century ones who fled persecution, and those who served in the navy or army, like Jacob Bruce, as they refer to Yakov Vilimovich Bryus, who even took part in the Crimea campaign (!) under Peter the Great. Mikhail Lermontov and Napoleon-basher Mikhail Barclay de Tolly have a Scottish connection too, though ultimately they are of course our lads. DO NOT mention Mary Hamilton, lady-in-waiting to Catherine I, who was executed on the order of Peter the Great for theft, infanticide and other, possibly inherent, Scottish crimes. The tsar, so they say, picked up her head after she was decapitated, gave an anatomy lesson, kissed it and threw it away.
    3) Raid the bits left of the Pension Fund once Rosneft and Novatek have taken what they want and buy up all of the single malt whisky in Scotland. Make Glenfiddich and Glenlivet the set drink in the better government canteens. Can we afford to buy the castles too? We have a couple already. They are really cool.
    4) Show them how serious we are about Scotland joining Russia and how they will have far more independence than under the British yoke by letting them choose their new name: Scotorossia and Keltorossia are the most popular among our social media audience. Personally, I rather like Gibernia.* Remember, do not let them think they can come in as a republic! The most we can offer is oblast for now. Or what that Nenets autonomous thingy has at best. *Note scrawled in red pencil on this part of the memo reads: "This is Ireland, fool." 
    5) The Scottish economy survives on oil. Show them how by copying the Russian model, the Scots can create a thriving, 21st-century democracy. Teach the Scots how easy it is to avoid environmental regulation when conducting oil and gas exploration. Point to the Arctic drilling now going on and the planned military base on the UNESCO-protected Wrangel Island as examples of how by joining Russia, Scotland can look for oil and gas without worrying about the puffins, or whatever wildlife they have up there, or the locals in the far northern regions.
    6) Sack, silence the diplomat who made that joke about Scotland in the leaked tape earlier this year. You remember: Igor Chubarov, the ambassador to Eritrea, was caught saying "We've got Crimea, but that's not f**king all folks. In the future we'll damn well take your Catalonia and Venice, and Scotland and Alaska too" — which admittedly is a decent summary of our long-term policy — but he punned the word "Scotland" with our word "skot," so it came out as "Cattleland." Funny, but politically unwise, and technically wrong as it is more Sheepland.
    7) Tell them how much it will annoy British Prime Minister David Cameron. This may be the clincher.
    8) Additional benefit for us: The Man has already said that five of our universities must be ranked in the top 100 by 2020, so unless any of you fancy going to teach in Novopipets, we add St. Andrew's, Edinburgh and Glasgow to make up the five.
    9) Possible problems. They do actually seem to want to be independent. Their health care system is free and actually works. So is ours of course, technically, but we may have to overcome some cognitive dissonance or get creative with reality.
    10) The kilt problem. Do we go all Pussy Riot on the skirt-wearing haggis-munchers, or simply ban tartan as gay propaganda?
    11) We may have to teach them to speak. Their accents are worse than Azeris.

    ^ This is just a funny article on the eve of the Scottish Independence vote. ^


    Finding History

    From JP:
    "Gas chambers at Sobibor death camp uncovered in archaeological dig"

    An archaeological dig in Poland has revealed the location of the gas chambers at the Sobibor death camp, Yad Vashem announced on Wednesday. Some 250,000 Jews were murdered at Sobibor, but on October 14, 1943, about 600 prisoners revolted and briefly escaped. Between 100 and 120 prisoners survived the revolt, and 60 of those survived the war. After the camp uprising, the Nazis bulldozed the area and planted it over with pine trees to conceal their crimes. The archaeological dig at the camp, which has been carried out by an international team of experts since 2007, has in the past uncovered thousands of personal items belonging to those interned at the camp, including jewelry, perfume, medicine and utensils. A well was uncovered this week which was used by the prisoners in Camp 1, where the revolt took place. The well contained several personal items belonging to Jewish prisoners because German guards had thrown trash into it when the camp was being destroyed. Dr. David Silberklang, a senior researcher at the Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust research said, "The discovery of the exact location of the gas chambers at the Sobibior Camp is a discovery of the utmost importance in Holocaust research." He said it was important to understand that "there are no remains from any Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers, and therefore these findings are the only thing left from those who were murdered." Silberklang said "a small window has been open into their daily suffering." He said for the first time researchers would be able to better understand the murder process in the camp and what the Jews went through before their death. "Finding the exact size of the gas chambers will enable us to understand what their capacity was and from there we can determine a more precise estimation of the number of people killed at the Sobibor Camp," Silberklang said. He said the finding will also help fill in the puzzle of what happened to the prisoners who escaped from the camp during the rebellion. Archaeologist Yoram Haimi said they were surprised at the size of the structure that housed the gas chambers and how well the chambers' walls were preserved. "The most exciting part is that we found near the gas chambers wedding rings with the inscription in Hebrew "Hare at mekudeshet li" (Behold, thou art consecrated to me)."
    ^ This is another victory that shows the Nazis didn't win and couldn't hide their crimes. ^


    Tuesday, September 16, 2014

    Russia's 30%

    From MT:
    "Report: Nearly 30% of Disabled Russian Kids Live in Orphanages"

    Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a damning report this week condemning the treatment of disabled children in Russia's orphanages, alleging abuse and neglect. Nearly 30 percent of Russian children with disabilities live in state-run orphanages, though most of them have at least one living parent, as whenever a child with a disability is born in Russia, health care workers pressure parents to give up their newborn baby to an orphanage, HRW said in a 94-page report released Monday.  Once in the system, children with a variety of disabilities such as cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome and the specific Russian “diagnoses” of “debility” or “idiocy” are barred from opportunities to learn — including learning how to walk, the report said. The findings are based on visits by HRW researchers to 10 orphanages in six of Russia's regions, and more than 200 interviews with parents and with current and former wards of the institutions, the report said. In eight out of the 10 orphanages, researchers found children of all ages confined to cribs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and banned from getting up or using a wheelchair, even if the children were capable of learning to walk, the report said. “Staff justified keeping children confined to cribs stating that children were contagious (including in cases when children had non-communicable diseases such as schizophrenia); that children did not understand anything and therefore could not benefit from going outside or to classes, when the latter opportunities were available; or that the children’s health was too fragile to remove them from their beds,” the report said. Orphanage administrators also discourage employees from paying attention to children, playing with them, allowing them outside contact or taking them outdoors, arguing that attention would “spoil” the children, the report said.
    Yet many of these children are able to thrive if given a chance, examples cited in the report indicate.
    A case in point is a girl identified as Dasha D., now 14, who was born with Down's syndrome in 1999, and whose mother Anastasia initially gave her up to an orphanage under pressure from health workers, but decided to take her back a year later. “They told me she would die in my arms, that her illness was so severe that she would need constant care,” Anastasia was quoted as saying. “They compared her to a broken toy that you can return to the store.” But after returning home, Dasha learned to walk, talk and read and began attending school, the report said. She also enjoys taking care of her elderly grandmother and a younger sister, her mother said, and photos of Dasha included in the report show a smiling blonde girl, looking happy as she hugs her little sister or holds a toy. Dasha's fate would likely have been very different if she had remained in an orphanage. In eight of the 10 institutions visited for the report, HRW researchers “documented how staff issued threats against children, including death threats and threats of beating or psychiatric hospitalization, as punishment for behavior deemed 'bad' or 'wild'; called children derogatory names such as 'vegetables' and claimed children have no potential to learn or live independently,” the report said. The calumny of being unable to learn — and the sentence to a lifetime of misery it entails — is endorsed by a special term in Russia's orphanages: The children are declared “uneducable,” the report said. Those who get the label are often tied to cribs in “lying-down rooms” around the clock, according to the report. An independent Moscow-based pediatrician specializing in treating children with disabilities, who was identified only as Nina B., told Human Rights Watch that the severe restrictions on any opportunity to learn or even move often cause children from orphanages to become “atrophied.” Andrea Mazzarino, a Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch and an author of the report, said in a statement that “violence and neglect of children with disabilities in orphanages is heartbreaking and completely deplorable.” “Many children with disabilities confined to ‘lying down’ rooms suffer stunning delays in their physical, emotional and intellectual development,” Mazzarino said. “Until the Russian government and donors act, tens of thousands of Russian children may spend their lives between four walls, isolated from their families, communities and peers, and denied the range of opportunities available to other children.”

    ^ I have seen first-hand how many Russians view and treat the disabled (I have written about it numerous times.) My only concern with this article is the 30% statement. I am sure the percentage is much higher. Only 10 places and 200 interviews were made to come up with that percentage and doesn't realistically reflect Russia's immense size and population. With that said, the disabled (children and adult) in Russia are generally treated as non-citizens that deserve to be treated as sub-humans for their "crime" of being born different and kept as far away from regular Russian society so ordinary Russians aren't made to think about them. That thinking and practice is something out of the Dark Ages and something the Russian Government on every level needs to work to fix. The disabled are just as capable of anyone else eve if they have to do things differently then everyone else. Hiding them away and treating them like animals is barbaric. ^