Friday, October 31, 2014


Passports Required

From MT:
"Kyrgyz Nationals Will Need International Passports to Enter Russia from 2015"

Citizens of Kyrgyzstan will no longer be able to enter Russia using their domestic identification documents after the end of this year, the government of the Central Asian nation has said. Foreign travel passports will be required for entry starting on Jan. 1, according to government orders cited by Kyrgyzstan's Vecherny Bishkek and RFE/RL's Radio Azzatyq. The change, which is likely to affect many thousands of labor migrants who move to Russia in search of better earnings, is part of Moscow's plan to tighten travel regulations on its borders with former Soviet states. Kyrgyzstan, like Russia, issues two kinds of passports — domestic ones and those required for most trips across the border. Russia's Cabinet has said President Vladimir Putin has ordered the introduction of passport requirements for nationals of all former Soviet republics except fellow members of the Moscow-led Customs Union by next year. The union comprises Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan has also announced plans to join in 2015, it said it would need until 2020 to complete the process. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed orders this summer that would introduce the passport requirement for citizens of Tajikistan, another former Soviet state in Central Asia.

^ It's a little odd for Russia to make the CIS members use international passports considering that they (Russia) seem to want to create a new Soviet Union. This new requirement makes that more difficult. ^

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Shielding Vets

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Bill to shield veterans services from government shutdown advances"

A bill to secure the funding of veterans’ services in a time of uncertain federal budgets won an initial legislative victory on Capitol Hill this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he will call a vote before the end of the year on the Putting Veterans Funding First Act. Reid announced this in a letter sent Tuesday to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who is in the midst of a tough re-election battle. Reid’s green-light on the vote was no doubt a midterm run-up gift to Begich — he called the senator a “tireless advocate” of the state’s 73,000 vets — but it also answered the calls of groups such as Disabled American Veterans, who say veterans need to know health, benefits and other services will not cease due to a budget impasse in Congress or a shutdown of the federal government, which have both been threats in recent years due to political gridlock. In his letter, Reid said he decided to allow the floor vote to coincide with Veterans Day. The federal government partially shut down for over two weeks a year ago, causing work to stop on the processing of hundreds of thousands of veteran disability claims and threaten disability compensation checks, Begich wrote in a published op-ed about his bill earlier this month. He said the bill would protect those veterans from being caught in another budget showdown by requiring Congress to lay out VA funding a year in advance. “The result would be no disruptions in services for veterans in the event of any future government shutdown and no danger of cutting off veterans’ checks,” Begich wrote. “No one in their right mind wants a repeat of that dark period — and the Putting Veterans Funding First Act would prevent it.” The DAV has been lobbying for the change. The group’s National Commander Ronald Hope said Thursday that “chronically late appropriations bills” have “sabotaged” the VA’s ability to provide services. “Without a timely budget, the VA is left without knowing what level of funding it will receive each year or when it will arrive,” Hope said in a released statement.
But the vote in the Senate is just one step forward and the legislation still faces hurdles to becoming law, he said. “While the Putting Veterans Funding First Act was overwhelmingly approved by both the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees, there could still be some significant obstacles to overcome before it is passed by both chambers,” Hope said. “Even for this noncontroversial and budget-neutral bill, political maneuvering and partisan gamesmanship remain a threat until it is finally enacted into law.”
^ This needs to get passed and done so quickly. Those that served our country shouldn't be hurt because Congress and the President can't work together. There should be certain groups of people (ie veterans, the disabled, etc) that will be completely covered when the government shutdowns or can't create a budget. There should also be automatic consequences on Congress and the President for not being able to do their jobs and keep their country running. ^

Real Issues

From USA Today:
"Poll: High anxiety, low expectations as election nears"

As Election Day nears, America is the Land of the Fearful. Voters are rattled by the Ebola virus, braced for years of conflict against the terrorist group Islamic State and still worried about jobs, a nationwide USA TODAY Poll finds. Two-thirds say the nation faces more challenging problems than usual; one in four call them the biggest problems of their lifetimes. And many lack confidence in the government to address them. "There's this cornucopia of icky that's going on right now," says Laurie DeShano, 38, of Bay City, Mich., an instructor at Saginaw Valley State University who was among those surveyed. She cites concerns ranging from ISIS – "We're absolutely in the cross hairs" – to the out-sized influence of special interests in American politics. "Just to be painfully honest, it's obvious we're quite off track," says Mike Trujillo, 46, an emergency-room physician from Miami. "I never thought the country would be going in this direction, not in my wildest dreams." President Obama's approval rating is a so-so 44%, and neither party is broadly trusted to handle the big issues ahead. By significant margins, those surveyed prefer congressional Republicans when it comes to dealing with the economy and ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria. By double-digits, they say congressional Democrats would do a better job in handling income inequality and social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. On dealing with the Ebola virus, one in five volunteer that they don't trust either one. But the bottom line seems to be that the downbeat mood of the electorate is favoring the GOP, whose backers are more enthusiastic about voting and animated by their opposition to Obama.
At stake in Tuesday's election are 36 Senate seats, all 435 House seats and 36 governorships as well as state ballot measures that would, among other things, restrict abortion and decriminalize marijuana.  Only a third of those surveyed say they are generally satisfied with how things are going in the United States. That's a more optimistic outlook than in the last midterm election, in 2010, when the unemployment rate had risen to 9.8% and the debate over the Affordable Care Act had caught fire. Today's mood is akin to those during turbulent midterms in 1994 and 2006. In those elections, the party that held the White House suffered setbacks severe enough to cost them control of the House of Representatives. With a Democrat in the White House now, Republicans already won a majority in the House four years ago. The biggest question for this election night is whether Democrats will be able to keep control of the Senate. Half of likely voters say the president doesn't weigh in their vote for Congress. But among those who call Obama a factor, by 2-1 they say they are casting a vote against him, not for him.  "It's a tough job...but this is not the best we've had, that's for sure," says Elizabeth Johnson, 58, a pharmacist from Morgantown, W.Va. "The president is not very competent and the people he's chosen are not very competent." More than four in 10 of those polled agreed.The challenge for Obama's fellow Democrats is to turn out their supporters in the midterm election, when fewer people vote and those who do are more likely to be white, older and conservative -- that is, more likely to support Republicans. That is proving to be difficult, although Democrats say they have honed field operations and turn-out-the-vote efforts. African-American participation has dipped only slightly, from 13% of the electorate in 2012 to 12% of the likely-voter sample in the new survey.

• An uncertain economy. The top priority for congressional action next year is job creation, cited by 29% of those surveyed. Despite unemployment that has declined to 5.9% and an economy that grew by a healthy 3.5% in the third quarter of the year, economic anxiety forged in the Great Recession continues to cast a cloud.
A long battle against ISIS. Six in 10 predict the United States will have to deal with the threat from Islamic State well past the time Obama's second term ends in two years. Four in 10 say it will stretch more than five years.
The threat from Ebola . Four in 10 say a major outbreak of the Ebola virus in the United States is very or somewhat likely over the next year, although public-health experts call that prospect remote at best. More than one in 10 say it's very or somewhat likely someone in their family will contract Ebola.
Four in 10 say they don't trust the federal government to handle the Ebola threat.

^ While both sides don't seem to be doing a good job it is now the lesser of two evils. Obama and those officials that support him have shown they are incompetent in nearly every issue they have touched (ie  Obamacare, the VA scandal, Benghazi, the two Secret Service scandals, Ebola, ISIS, creating full-time, benefitted jobs, dealing with Russia, supporting our allies (ie Israel, the Ukraine, etc), the government shutdown.) The list goes on and includes both domestic and international affairs. Some Presidents (like LBJ) focused their attention on domestic issues and did great things while failing in international issues and caused more harm then good (ie Vietnam.) The fact the LBJ showed some sense in dealing with certain issues makes him a stronger President than Obama who has shown time and again that he is all talk and no good, concrete action. ^

Big Bang Pope

From USA Today:
"Pope says evolution, Big Bang are real"

Pope Francis has waded into the controversial debate over the origins of human life, saying the big bang theory did not contradict the role of a divine creator, but even required it. The pope was addressing the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which gathered Monday at the Vatican to discuss "Evolving Concepts of Nature." "When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so," Francis said. "He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment." Francis said the beginning of the world was not "a work of chaos" but created from a principle of love. He said sometimes competing beliefs in creation and evolution could co-exist.  "God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life," the pope said. "Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve. Unlike much of evangelical Protestantism in the U.S., Catholic teaching traditionally has not been at odds with evolution. In 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed there was no opposition between evolution and Catholic doctrine. In 1996, St. John Paul II endorsed Pius' statement. Giovanni Bignami, a professor and president of Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics, welcomed Francis' comments, saying he had buried the "pseudo theories" of creationists. "The pope's statement is significant," Bignami told Italian news agency Adnkronos. "We are the direct descendants from the Big Bang that created the universe. Evolution came from creation." Giulio Giorello, professor of the philosophy of science at Milan's University degli Studi, said he believed Francis was "trying to reduce the emotion of dispute or presumed disputes" with science.

^ It seems that Pope Francis really does want the Catholic Church to modernize and accept what the majority of the world already accepts while at the same time keeping its core values intact. I hope that this will continue to other areas so those Catholics that have rejected the Church in the past for its problems, abuses and issues will want to come back and help it thrive in the 21st Century. ^

Turkey Ally

From the Stars and Stripes:
"For Turkey and U.S., at odds over Syria, a 60-year alliance shows signs of crumbling"

The increasingly hostile divergence of views between Turkey and the United States over Syria is testing the durability of their 60-year alliance, to the point where some are starting to question whether the two countries still can be considered allies at all. Turkey’s refusal to allow the United States to use its bases to launch attacks against the Islamic State, quarrels over how to manage the battle raging in the Syrian border town of Kobane and the harsh tone of the anti-American rhetoric used by top Turkish officials to denounce U.S. policy have served to illuminate the vast gulf that divides the two nations as they scramble to address the menace posed by the extremists. Whether the Islamic State even is the chief threat confronting the region is disputed, with Washington and Ankara publicly airing their differences through a fog of sniping, insults and recrimination over who is to blame for the mess the Middle East has become. At stake is a six-decade-old relationship forged during the Cold War and now endowed with a different but equally vital strategic dimension. Turkey is positioned on the front line of the war against the Islamic State, controlling a 780-mile border with Iraq and Syria. Without Turkey’s cooperation, no U.S. policy to bring stability to the region can succeed, analysts and officials on both sides say. "If Turkey is not an ally, then we and Turkey are in trouble,” said Francis Ricciardone, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Turkey until the summer. “It is probably the most important ally. The airdrop by U.S. warplanes last week of weapons to a Kurdish group Turkey regards as a terrorist organization crystallized the apparent parting of ways. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not disguised his anger at the way President Obama ordered the airdrop. The U.S. president informed him of the decision in a telephone call barely an hour after Erdogan had declared to journalists that Turkey would never allow such assistance to take place. U.S. officials have sought to reassure Turkey that the airdrop was a one-time action, and the two countries have agreed on a plan to reinforce the beleaguered Syrian Kurds with Iraqi peshmerga fighters, which Turkey does not object to, because it has friendly relations with Iraqi Kurds. But the Kobane dispute masked more fundamental differences over a range of issues, some of which have been brewing for years and others that have been brought to light by the urgency of the U.S.-led air campaign, analysts say. The tensions are not unprecedented, nor are the doubts about an alliance born in a different era, when fears of Soviet expansionism brought Muslim Turkey under NATO’S umbrella and extended the Western bloc’s reach into Asia. The United State imposed an arms embargo on Turkey after Turkish troops invaded Cyprus in 1974. In 2003, there was fury in Washington when Turkey’s parliament refused to allow American troops to use Turkish soil as a staging ground for the invasion of Iraq, triggering a deep chill that took years to overcome. The 2003 rupture may, however, have foreshadowed the beginning of a more fundamental shift in the relationship, with Erdogan embarking on a decade of transformation in Turkey that has perhaps forever changed his country, analysts say. Turkey has grown and prospered under his rule, but it has also begun to tilt toward a more authoritarian, Islamist brand of politics that is increasingly at odds with the model of secularism and pluralism that the United States has held up as a key component of Turkey’s importance to the alliance.

^  If Turkey isn't a US (or NATO) ally and doesn't do a thing to stop ISIS or any other terrorist threat than maybe we (the US and NATO) don't need Turkey. It seems that through the years Turkey has done more to harm relations than help them and the fact that they are starting to radicalize and allow Islam to gain more pull instead of the secular country at modern Turkey was created to  be after World War 1. It wouldn't surprise me that Turkey may believe in ISIS or other anti-Western Islamist extremist groups. Turkey should realize that they have benefitted more from a good relationship with the US, the EU, NATO then with anyone else in their modern-day history. Turkey should remember that and work with us then against us since we all can get something good from a close relationship if all parties are for it. ^

Crimean Tunnel

From the MT:
"Crimea Wants Tunnel to Russia, Not Kerch Bridge"

A planned bridge from mainland Russia to the newly annexed Crimean Peninsula would be dangerous and should be replaced with plans to construct a tunnel, the region's envoy to the Kremlin said Wednesday. "It's dangerous because at least one month a year, for some time, the bridge would not be functioning because of stormy winds and sleet in the wintertime," Georgy Muradov said.
Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in March, has no land connection to Russia. But the government has begun a project to build a six-kilometer railroad and car bridge across the Kerch Strait.
Muradov said unspecified Canadian and Chinese companies have instead pitched the proposal to build a tunnel under the Kerch Strait. He estimated the costs of a tunnel at 60 billion to 80 billion rubles ($1.4 billion to $1.8 billion), much less than the bridge, estimated at up to 228 billion rubles ($5.2 billion).
Russia's Transportation Minister Maxim Sokolov said in September that the bridge's construction was already under way and set to finish in 2018. But Muradov said construction is still in the early stages and can be stopped in favor of a tunnel. He said Crimean officials are currently in talks with the Transportation Ministry about the issue.

^ We can't always get what we want. The Ukraine wants Russian troops to leave the annexed Crimea and stop supporting the ethnic-Russian terrorists in eastern Ukraine. The rest of the world wants Russia to stop bullying other countries and causing trouble. Whether a bridge or tunnel is built means nothing in the greater scheme of things. The Crimea should worry more about a collapsing ruble and standard of living that will continue to get worse if Russia doesn't stop its threats. ^

Unstable Nurse

From the BBC:
"Ebola outbreak: Nurse Kaci Hickox defies quarantine"

A US nurse who returned from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone has defied a quarantine order, leaving her house in Maine for a brief bike ride. Kaci Hickox maintains isolation is unnecessary, as she has no symptoms and has tested negative for Ebola. Maine officials have vowed to go to court to try to enforce the quarantine. Nearly 5,000 people have died of the disease in West Africa, but only nine patients have been treated for the virus on US soil. More than 13,700 people have been sickened in the Ebola outbreak, the vast majority in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Ebola, which is only spread through close contact with the bodily fluids of a sick patient, has a 21-day incubation period.
US officials are at odds over whether American healthcare workers who return from treating Ebola patients in West Africa should be forced into quarantine until that period has expired.  New Jersey and other states had put quarantine rules into place after a New York doctor who treated Ebola patients in West Africa came down with the disease. Ms Hickox returned to the US on Friday, landing at Newark International Airport.
Ms Hickox contested the quarantine regimen, ultimately threatening legal action. After showing no fever or other symptoms for a 24-hour period, she was discharged and brought to her home state of Maine.  On Thursday morning, Ms Hickox left her home on a bicycle, followed by police officers who monitored her movements and public interactions. She returned home shortly after.
Without a court order, the police were barred from detaining her. Maine officials have sought a judge's permission to order Ms Hickox to undergo a blood test for Ebola, Governor Paul LePage told ABC News. "This could be resolved today," Mr LePage said. "She has been exposed and she's not co-operative, so force her to take a test. It's so simple."

^ This woman seems to want more of her 15 minutes of fame than anything else. The only good that can come out of all of this now is for every hospital, clinic and doctor's office in the country to refuse to hire her. She clearly doesn't care about keeping people safe and healthy or with following the rules. It is one thing to believe the rules are wrong and try and change them and another to flaunt them and throw them in people's faces. I don't trust any of these so-called health experts and heath care workers. Doctors and nurses who have worked with those who died from Ebola are going bowling, taking cruises, going on planes, etc without a care of spreading the deadly disease to anyone else (especially before their 21 day quarantine ends.) The same with this reckless and attention-wanting nurse. ^

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cheap Moscow

From MT:
"Moscow Pensions Set at $215 Per Month"

Moscow pensioners will likely next year see their minimum benefits package raised by 544 rubles to 9,046 rubles ($215) a month, the City Duma said in a statement Monday. The amount, called the minimum subsistence income, has been agreed by the City Duma's Commission on Social Policy and Labour Relations. While a few months ago the 7.5 percent would have meant a real terms rise, sharp falls in the value of the ruble and price rises following Moscow's bans on food imports from Western countries have seen inflation rocket to 8 percent. In Moscow, one of the world's most expensive cities, 9,046 rubles doesn't go far. It would buy you a cup of coffee from Starbucks every day, but leave you with no change at the end of the month. The average Moscow salary, meanwhile, is around 50,000 rubles ($1,200) a month.

^ I remember when I lived in Russia. I could live like a king on my monthly allowance and yet whenever I went to Moscow that same amount bought me very little (and that didn't include a hotel as I always stayed with friends.) Moscow is the most expensive city in Russia and one of the most expensive in the world. There is no real reason for that other than the high corruption and mafia dealings. Ordinary Russians have to struggle for ends meat while the small percentage of the population controls the prices, etc. The food import ban and Russia's self-imposing isolation (along with the sanctions placed on the country) are continuing to hurt the regular people while the rich barely notice. This is only going to get much worse unless the Russian Government changes its policies. The Soviet Union collapsed mainly because of over-spending in certain areas (like defense) and they had no international currency or earnings to help them. It looks like modern Russia is on the point of starting that downhill slope. It is good when a country can make itself not reliable on the outside world, but doing so without having the technology, finances, natural resources, etc to back it up only hurts the country and its people. ^

Australia Ban

From Yahoo:
"Australia issues blanket visa ban on Ebola-hit countries"

Australia came under fire on Tuesday from health experts and rights advocates after it issued a blanket ban on visas from West African nations affected by the Ebola outbreak, making it the first rich nation to shut its doors to the region. Australia has not recorded a case of Ebola despite a number of scares, and conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott has so far resisted repeated requests to send medical personnel to help battle the outbreak on the ground. The decision to refuse entry for anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, while touted by the government as a necessary safety precaution, was criticised by experts and advocates as politically motivated and shortsighted. "The government has strong controls for the entry of persons to Australia under our immigration programme from West Africa," Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told parliament on Monday.
"These measures include temporarily suspending our immigration programme, including our humanitarian programme from Ebola-affected countries, and this means we are not processing any application from these affected countries."  All non-permanent or temporary visas were being cancelled and permanent visa holders who had not yet arrived in Australia will be required to submit to a 21-day quarantine period, he added. The Ebola outbreak that began in March has killed nearly 5,000 people, the vast majority in West Africa. The disease has an incubation period of about three weeks, and becomes contagious when a victim shows symptoms. Ebola, which can cause fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, spreads through contact with bodily fluids such as blood or saliva.
 ^ I see no issue with Australia banning people from the affected areas from entering their country. With that said, Australia should send aid to western Africa to help stop the spread. I also believe every country should quarantine anyone who has been to the affected areas (whether it is western Africa, Texas, New York, etc.) There was some stupid case of a nurse in NJ claiming her basic civil rights were being violated because she had been to western Africa and now NJ wanted to keep her under quarantine to make sure she didn't spread Ebola to anyone here. It's not as though she was going to be kept in a dark basement with no food  or water. I saw the tent she was in on TV. The US isn't doing enough or the right things to stop Ebola from spreading. If unchecked it could lead to the disaster of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. The US,  and other countries, needs to do the following: ban all civilian travel to/from the affected areas (regardless of citizenship), quarantine those that have been exposed for at least 21 days and send more medical aid and support to the affected areas to help stop it's spread. Anyone who doesn't like these measures should stay away from those that have Ebola. Also Obama should replace his Ebola czar with someone who actually has a medical background in dangerous diseases. That is just plain stupid. No wonder no Democrats want him to help them on their campaigns. ^

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lenin Mania

From MT:
"Red Square Exhibit Sheds New Light on Soviet Cult of Lenin"

Everyone knew what was in the redbrick 19th-century building by Red Square in Soviet times. It was the Lenin Museum, the home — together with the nearby mausoleum — of the Lenin cult, to which a visit was a rite of passage for Soviet children, sculpting the ideological view of the Bolshevik leader with the help of the vast number of items kept at the museum. The building stood closed for much of the last two decades, until the War of 1812 Museum opened there a few years back. It was only this year that the "Leniniana," as the museum calls the statues, paintings, clothes and documents connected to the Soviet leader, were put back on show.  The Lenin Museum's archives still exist and number 100,000 items, collected over about 70 years. A thousand of them are now on show in an exhibit called "The Myth of the Beloved Leader." As the title suggests, the Lenin on show now is shorn of ideology and as much about how the myth was created.
A number of items at the exhibit are on show for the first time, dug out from the archives, where they had been hidden by dedicated museum workers during the intermittent purges that hit the collection as political fortunes switched one way and then the other. "Back then you got a hefty jail sentence for being 10 minutes late for work, and for that kind of thing [hiding artifacts] there would be a very serious sentence," said Olga Grankina, a museum employee who has worked there since 1976. One such item is a bust of Lenin made by Maria Denisova-Shadenko in 1927, where he looks cunning and artful, more a lusty goat than the kind, brave father of the nation that Soviet ideology wanted to portray. "I have huge respect for the courage of the people who did this, because it is only thanks to them that today's visitors can see them," Grankina said. The collection of items connected to the founder of the Soviet Union began almost immediately after Lenin's death in 1924, but it wasn't until 1936 that the museum opened in the building on Red Square that had formerly housed the Moscow City Duma.  With Stalin firmly in power, the original exhibit was skewed to show how close Stalin was to Lenin, and purged of anything that could contradict that idea. Portraits were commissioned that had Lenin as the focus but Stalin, the devoted lieutenant and future leader, never far way.
In paintings of Lenin in the 1920s, Stalin was nowhere in sight, Grankina said. "In the 1930s he is always there." In the 1950s, the museum was ideologically cleansed after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin in a secret speech at a Soviet party congress. "They decided to remove any mention of Stalin from the museum," Grankina said, noting wryly that there was a lot to get rid of as by then it was practically "the museum of Lenin and Stalin." A group of items that would never have been shown in the Lenin Museum are letters and pictures that were used to teach Lenin to speak again after his catastrophic stroke in 1922, which left him paralyzed down the right side of his body.
Soviet history showed that he lived and then suddenly died, Grankina said, "but really it was a very difficult period." After he recovered, Lenin never went back into the room where he had lain ill, and he avoided his sister, who had helped him through his illness, Grankina said. Once he died, "the man was turned into a mystical hero. His image was canonized and considered holy," the museum's curators wrote in a booklet published for the exhibit.  The cult produced some strange results, such as portraits of Lenin made from postage stamps, straw and grain, and even a microscopic drawing of Lenin on a single lentil. Party bosses soon put a stop to such frivolity, but Lenin statues mushroomed across the country. A commission in the 1930s tried to calculate how many Lenin statues there were, but gave up as they realized the impossibility of the task, Grankina said.
Grankina speaks passionately about Lenin and the exhibit, which runs till Jan. 13 — as do other members of staff at the museum.  "You can say that this collection has had a difficult fate: At the start it was in an ideological squeeze, and then it was closed completely. But it is a curious collection," she said. "It is normal to preserve things, to keep them and think about them," Grankina said. "We want people to come here and think what happened in this country."

^ I will never understand why Russians (and other former Soviet citizens) continue to love Lenin. He merely moved Russia from one dictatorship (that of the Czars) to another (that of the Communists.) He brought about the 1917 October Revolution (which actually happened in November once Russia moved to the Julian Calendar.) He brought about the Russian Civil War, the War Communism, the execution of Czar Nicolas and his family and started the first purges of the Soviets. While he was not the extremist that Stalin was Lenin was no saint. He started the cycle that led to 70 + years of Soviet repression both within the Soviet Union and around the world. Out of curiosity I went to Lenin's Mausoleum on Red Square (after several years of trying - he was always "being repaired.") The guards there looked and acted like the guards from the "Wizard of Oz" and you could only see him for a few seconds with everyone pushing you forward. He looked liked an old raison. With all that said I think Russia needs to preserve all the documents and artifacts of Lenin and other Soviet officials the same way Germany needs to preserve the documents and artifacts of Hitler and the East German officials. ^

Britain Leaves At 13

From the BBC:
"The end of Bastion - and Britain's 13-year war in Afghanistan"

After 13 years, eight of them involving bloody fighting in Helmand, Britain's war in Afghanistan is finally over.  In a ceremony at the main British base at Camp Bastion, the union flag was lowered and the camp was handed over to the Afghans who will be left behind to look after their own security in what has been one of the hardest provinces to tame.  Bastion was once the largest British military base in the world - a sea of tents, shipping containers and barricades, plonked on the flat, empty, red Helmand desert like the first city on Mars. At its busiest, Bastion housed up to 14,000 troops. Its 2.2-mile (3.5km) runway was like any busy airport - at the height of the fighting it witnessed up to 600 aircraft movements a day. Its perimeter wall was more than 20 miles long. It had its own hospital and water bottling plant, as well as shops, canteens and gyms.  It was a military metropolis from which the British, and later the US Marine corps and Afghans too, directed the fight in Helmand - the hub from which UK forces re-supplied more than 100 smaller bases at the height of the war.  Those have now all gone, and the British presence in Bastion has been almost completely erased. Even Bastion's memorial wall, which bears the name of each of the 453 British military personnel killed in the conflict, has been removed. It will be rebuilt at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire - not just closer to home, but more secure. Helmand is still one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan.
So what might the British leave behind in Afghanistan after a presence of 13 years? What do they have to show for a war that has cost more than £20bn and hundreds of precious lives? The British military believe they will be leaving Helmand in better shape than when they arrived. Across the country, 6.7 million children now attend school, nearly half of them girls. That would have been unthinkable under the Taliban rule. Healthcare has improved; life expectancy is longer.

^ I wonder if the Afghani version of ISIS will emerge once all the combat troops from the other countries have left by the end of the year? I'm sure the Taliban will take over more territory. ^

Friday, October 24, 2014

It's снегing!

We are having the first real snowfall of the season. I like using the phrase: "It's снегing!" Which is taken from the Russian word for snow "снег" and mixing it with English. It's what I used to say when I was in Russia before I really knew Russian. I don't like how the Russians say "It's snowing" (Идет снег_ which really means "snow goes" - where does it go? I like my Runglish version better. Some may think it's too early for snow, but I live on a mountain and it's normal here. It snows from October through May.

World Halloween

From Wikipedia:
"Halloween Around the World"
The more commercialized event is celebrated by expatriate Americans or Canadians. Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park (Halloween Bash) host annual Halloween shows.  Traditional "door-to-door" trick or treating is not commonly practiced in Hong Kong due to the vast majority of Hong Kong residents living in high-rise apartment blocks.  Mainland China has been less influenced by Anglo traditions than Hong Kong and Halloween is generally considered "foreign." As Halloween has become more popular globally it has also become more popular in China, however, particularly amongst children attending private or international schools with many foreign teachers.
Halloween arrived only recently in Japan, mainly in the context of American pop culture. Western-style Halloween decorations such as jack-o'-lanterns can be seen in many locations, and places such as Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan put on special Halloween events. The wearing of elaborate costumes at night is recently very popular in areas such as Amerikamura in Osaka and Kobe where, in October 2012, about 1700 people dressed in costumes to take part in the Halloween Festival.
In recent years, Halloween celebration is becoming more and more popular in Singapore, with influences from the west and probably the fun element of Halloween.  In 2012, there are over 19 major Halloween celebration events around Singapore. In 2013, Universal Studios Singapore Halloween Horror Nights is coming back for the third time. Sentosa Spooktacular is back for the fifth time since 2009. Museum of Horrors is back for the fourth time.

Australia and New Zealand:
Halloween is growing in momentum in Australia, in spite of seasonal differences and the transition from spring to summer. Criticisms stem largely from the fact that Halloween has little relevance to Australian culture.  It is also considered, by some Australians, to be an unwanted American influence; as although Halloween does have Celtic/European origins, its increasing popularity in Australia is largely as a result of American pop-culture influence. Supporters of the event claim that the critics fail to see that the event is not entirely American, but rather Celtic and is no different to embracing other cultural traditions such as Saint Patrick's Day (an Irish tradition).
As in neighbouring Australia, Halloween in New Zealand is not as celebrated as in North America, although in recent years it has been achieving some popularity especially among the youngest.
 Bosnia and Herzegovina:
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, vignesh Halloween was not celebrated until recently. For the past few years, it has been popular among younger generations.  Halloween is a work day in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since wearing masks has become highly popular among children and teenagers, e.g. in many Bosnian schools, both elementary as well as high schools (gymnasiums and vocational), students will usually wear costumes and masks on Halloween. There it is called Noć vještica (English translation: Night of Witches).
Halloween was not generally observed in Germany prior to the 1990s, in part due to the opposition of the Lutheran Church. It has been increasing in popularity, however, with a fifth of Germans now telling pollsters they celebrate Halloween. Halloween has been associated with the influence of U.S. culture, and "Trick or Treating" (in German,"Süßes oder Saures") has been occurring in some areas such as the Dahlem neighborhood in Berlin, which was part of the American zone during the Cold War. Complaints of vandalism associated with Halloween "Tricks" are increasing, particular from many elderly Germans unfamiliar with "Trick or Treating."
On Halloween night, adults and children dress up as creatures from the underworld (e.g., ghosts, ghouls, zombies, witches, and goblins), light bonfires, and enjoy spectacular fireworks displays – in particular, the city of Derry is home to the largest organized Halloween celebration on the island, in the form of a street carnival and fireworks display

Halloween in Romania is celebrated around the myth of "Dracula" on 31 October. The spirit of Dracula is believed to live there because the town was the site of many witch trials; these are recreated today by actors on the night of Halloween. The most successful Halloween Party in Transylvania is taken place in Sighisoara, the citadel where Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula) was born. The prestigious Fodor's travel guide placed Halloween in Transylvania in a list of Top Ten Must-Do-Adventures. However, regarding the fact that Dracula is a fictional character created by Bram Stoker, this should not be considered a tradition in Romania. See "Day of the Dead". During this tradition people light up candles in the cemetery, on the shrines of their close relatives and loved ones who have passed away.

Celebration of Halloween began in the 1990s, when costume and ghoulish parties spread throughout night clubs throughout Russia. Halloween is generally celebrated by younger generations and is not widely celebrated in civic society (eg. theaters or libraries). In fact, Halloween is among the Western celebrations that the Russian government and politicians—which have grown increasingly anti-Western in the early 2010s—are trying to eliminate from public celebration.

 In Switzerland, Halloween, after first becoming popular in 1999 is on the wane. Switzerland already has a "festival overload" and even though Swiss people like to dress up for any occasion, they do prefer a traditional element.

There are certain customs associated with All Saints' Day (All Hallows Day) and All Souls' Day. In the past, on All Souls' Eve families would stay up late, and little "soul cakes" were eaten. At the stroke of midnight, there was solemn silence among households, which had candles burning in every room to guide the souls back to visit their earthly homes and a glass of wine on the table to refresh them. The tradition of giving soul cakes that originated in Great Britain and Ireland was known as souling, often seen as the origin of modern trick or treating in North America, and souling continued in parts of England as late as the 1930s, with children going from door to door singing songs and saying prayers for the dead in return for cakes or money.

The name Halloween is first attested in the 16th century as a Scottish shortening of the fuller All-Hallows-Even, that is, the night before All Hallows Day.All observances of Halloween made an application to the agency of evil spirits, and Dumfries poet John Mayne's 1780 poem made note of pranks at Halloween; "What fearfu' pranks ensue!", as well as the supernatural associated with the night, "Bogies" (ghosts).

United States and Canada:

Halloween is largely celebrated in the same manner in English-speaking Canada and the United States. In the United States, where lingering Puritan tradition restricted the observance of many holidays, Halloween did not become a holiday until the 19th century. American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries do not include Halloween in their lists of holidays. The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Potato Famine (1845–1849) finally brought the holiday to the United States. Scottish emigration, primarily to Canada before 1870 and to the United States thereafter, brought the Scottish version of the holiday to each country. The earliest known reference to ritual begging on Halloween in English speaking North America occurs in 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario reported that it was normal for the smaller children to go street "guising" on Halloween between 6 and 7 p.m., visiting shops and neighbors to be rewarded with nuts and candies for their rhymes and songsThe commercialization of Halloween in the United States did not start until the 20th century, beginning perhaps with Halloween postcards (featuring hundreds of designs), which were most popular between 1905 and 1915. Halloween is now the United States' second most popular holiday (after Christmas) for decorating; the sale of candy and costumes is also extremely common during the holiday, which is marketed to children and adults alike. The National Confectioners Association (NCA) reported in 2005 that 80 percent of American adults planned to give out candy to trick-or-treaters. The NCA reported in 2005 that 93 percent of children planned to go trick-or-treating. According to the National Retail Federation, the most popular Halloween costume themes for adults are, in order: witch, pirate, vampire, cat, and clown. Each year, popular costumes are dictated by various current events and pop culture icons. On many college campuses, Halloween is a major celebration, with the Friday and Saturday nearest 31 October hosting many costume parties.

^ It's interesting to see how different countries take something American and make it their own. It's also interesting to see how Americans take other countries' festivals and holidays and what we do with them. ^

Traitor Memorial?

From the BBC:
"Austria unveils World War Two deserters' memorial"

A memorial to deserters from Hitler's army, the Wehrmacht, has been unveiled in the centre of the Austrian capital, Vienna.  It follows a decision by Austria's parliament in 2009 to rehabilitate thousands of soldiers criminalised by the Nazis for desertion. Among the former soldiers attending Friday's unveiling was Richard Wadani, who was drafted into Hitler's army in 1939. Not long afterwards, his mother gave him a white handkerchief. "She was simple, but clever," Mr Wadani, who is now 92, told me. "She said this regime must go, and she supported me when we spoke about me deserting from the army. She gave me a white cloth, for safety, when I surrendered. I had it with me for years." Richard Wadani made his first attempt at desertion in 1942, in Russia.  "I was a lorry driver. I was always behind the lines. I wasn't directly endangered by the front, but I saw a lot of things that people on the front didn't necessarily see: genocide, mass murder, terrible situations. And it became obvious that I couldn't keep on being part of it." In 1944, he tried again, in northern France. He crawled through barbed wire, and across a grove of trees, knowing that one false move could cost him his life. The Nazis executed deserters.  Richard Wadani managed his escape unscathed. He spent the rest of the war on the Allied side, joining a Czechoslovakian military unit, organised by the British army. Historian and campaigner Thomas Geldmacher says around 20,000 Austrians are believed to have deserted from the Wehrmacht, many in the last chaotic days of World War Two. It is thought that around 1,500 Austrian deserters faced the firing squad.  Those who survived were regarded as traitors until 2009, when the Austrian parliament agreed to rehabilitate soldiers criminalised by the Nazis.  Mr Wadani says he faced mistrust and discrimination for years after the war.   But now the deserters have a memorial, and in a very prominent position in the heart of Vienna. The monument is in Ballhauplatz, right opposite the presidential palace and the federal chancellery.   The large, X-shaped structure, with the words "all alone" imprinted on top, is meant to symbolise the anonymity of individuals reduced to an X on a list, but also the strength of those involved. It is close to, but not part of, Austria's national war memorials in Heldenplatz, or Heroes Square.  The memorial is dedicated to the "victims of Nazi military justice", but it is controversial.   The Austrian Veterans' Association, the OKB, opposes it. "In all countries around the world, desertion is a crime which is strictly punished," Johann Jakob from the OKB, told me. He says a memorial to deserters "in general" is "not justified". "We have to distinguish who really was a deserter back then," he said. "If someone fought for Austria as a resistance fighter (against Hitler) he was not a deserter, in our view. He has our respect. We only abhor people who betrayed or abandoned their comrades in war." Thomas Geldmacher disagrees. "In the context of the war of extinction of the German Wehrmacht, I think it is fair to say that every desertion was justified, no matter what the motive." World War Two still poses difficulties for Austria, which was slow to acknowledge the role Austrians played in Nazi atrocities.  But since the 1980s the country has taken a series of steps to face up to the legacy of its dark past. The historian, Tina Walzer, says the debate about the memorial shows how far the country has come. "It tells us that Austrian society has become more democratic, more open than it has been for the last two generations," she says.   "It is willing to accept discussions about its past. And it is willing to accept that there were more than just two groups, the victims and the perpetrators; that there are many more opinions which have to be given room." For Richard Wadani, the monument represents "reparation".   "We waited many decades for this and now we have it," he says. "It is a kind of liberation."

^ I am going back and forth on this one. On the one hand, it is for soldiers that disobeyed their orders, put their lives at risk and left their posts to surrender to the Allies and had to live with open distain for decades. On the other side, they were soldiers who abandoned their posts and their fellow soldiers (whether is was because they hated Hitler and the Nazis or they knew the war was already lost.). Of course they were on the wrong side and each Nazi soldier that surrendered was one less that could kill an Allied soldier or a civilian. I guess if I had to chose I would say that these soldiers (whether anti-Nazi or not) did a good thing for abandoning their post, laying down their weapons and surrendering. Austrians always made themselves out to be Hitler's first victims and now they seem to have moved away from that viewpoint and admit that the majority of Austrians were openly enthusiastic Nazis (as the Germans were too.) With that admittance the Austrians are now looking for anyone who showed a slight hint of resistance. The Germans did it by making the White Rose, the Swing Kids and the July 20th members into their heroes (of course it took decades after the end of the war for them to even consider that.) ^

Helpful Fleeing

From the BBC:
"Putin: Russia helped Yanukovych to flee Ukraine"

Russia helped ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych to flee from violent protests in February, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has said. It is the first time Mr Putin has said openly that he helped his ally to flee. Russian speakers in Ukraine's east mostly backed Mr Yanukovych and were enraged at his overthrow, which helped to fuel months of violence. Ukraine is electing a new parliament on Sunday, but eastern separatists will hold their own vote next month. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Mr Putin that the elections in the east must be held under Ukrainian law. Speaking to members of the Valdai discussion club in Sochi, Mr Putin said Mr Yanukovych had been removed by force. Mr Yanukovych fled to Russia in February after protests in which more than 100 people died.
"I will say it openly - he asked to be driven away to Russia, which we did," the Russian president said.  Vladimir Putin looked calm and relaxed. He cracked jokes. He claimed Russia did not want confrontation and bore no grudge because of sanctions. All that was needed, he said, was to restore the balance lost when the Soviet Union disappeared as a global counterweight to US power. All Russia wanted was for Russian interests to be respected. That's the key to understanding Mr Putin these days: from the Ukraine crisis to violence in the Middle East, he claims that all the turbulence in the world is due to mistakes made by an American superpower which erroneously believed that it was the sole victor of the Cold War and could shape the world to suit its exclusive interests. The problem, he says, is a world without rules where the US has run rampage.  Over Ukraine, he denies that Russia violated international law and or breached sovereignty. Russia's annexation of Crimea was fulfilling Crimea's right to self-determination. As for hostile propaganda to create a new enemy, this was an American tactic, aimed at Russia, not vice versa. Indeed almost every criticism he made of the US could be applied to Russia itself. But in Mr Putin's scathing denunciation of American power, he simply refuses to acknowledge it. 

 ^ This is no surprise. Everyone knew Russia helped Yanukovych leave the Ukraine just as everyone knows that Russia is supplying the ethnic-Russian terrorists in eastern Ukraine with men and weapons. ^

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo

From the Ottawa Sun:
"Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was a proud soldier, father"

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was a doting father, an animal lover and a proud soldier who dreamed of serving his country since he was barely a teenager. The Hamilton native was living that dream Wednesday morning when he was gunned down in the nation's capital while performing one of the highest honours bestowed upon only the finest Canadian soldiers -- standing guard with an empty rifle over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Parliament Hill. Now in Steeltown, across the country and around the world, the 24-year-old's name will forever be tied to the day Canada's innocence was stolen. "He was very proud to be a soldier," Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina said of Cirillo on Wednesday. Bratina was among the many who visited the armoury where the slain soldier's reservist unit is based to pay their respects in the wake of the deadly attack in the heart of the country.  The mayor also visited Cirillo's grief-stricken family, accompanied by Hamilton Police Chief Greg de Caire, saying "there were lots of tears." "It's very sad," Bratina said, as the Canadian flag above the armoury flew at half-mast and flowers piled up at the locked gate to the armoury, which was guarded all day by soldiers. Cirillo's parents, two sisters, his five-year-old son Marcus and other family members were still in shock Wednesday, too distraught to talk about their loss. "His mom is now on her way to Ottawa," Bratina said. He said Cirillo became a cadet when he was just 13, then joined the Argylls of Canada - 91st Canadian Highlanders about five years ago. His most recent and final duty -- standing sentry at the National War Memorial in Ottawa -- began Monday. "Someone who is assigned to ceremonial guard at the cenotaph in Ottawa is a very highly trained, qualified individual," Bratina said. "To stand in ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, right next to the Parliament Buildings, is one of the highest accolades you can get."  Although soldiers are armed with rifles while performing the ceremonial duty, the mayor noted out that the guards do not typically have ammunition in their weapons. And he, like the rest of Canada, was stunned by the shooting. "To hear one of our own was taken ... in a cowardly ambush, it's hard to put it into words," Bratina said.
Others who visited the armoury expressed similar feelings. "It tore my heart apart when I found out it was an (Argyll) because these are just kids that are just looking for the honour in life," said veteran Ed Hughes, who served in Canada's military in the 1980s. "And to end up being shot, so cowardly, while protecting the (Tomb of the) Unknown Soldier is a shame. "It's a sad day. Canada will never be the same." A Facebook memorial page -- with a link to a fundraiser -- honouring the reservist was launched just hours after his death. Photos on his @ncitaly Instagram account show Cirillo dressed in his camouflage combat uniform, cuddling a number of rescued dogs and spending time with his young son Marcus.

^ No matter what you think and say about a government or their military the truth is right here. Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was a soldier who was murdered doing his duty. A soldier doesn't have to die in a foreign land to defend his country, but can be guarding a memorial that remembers those that did. ^

The Kurds

From the BBC:
"Who are the Kurds?"

Between 20 and 30 million Kurds inhabit a mountainous region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. They make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state. In recent decades, Kurds have increasingly influenced regional developments, fighting for autonomy in Turkey and playing prominent roles in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, where they have resisted the advance of the jihadist group, Islamic State (IS).
Where do they come from?
The Kurds historically led nomadic lives revolving around sheep and goat herding throughout the Mesopotamian plains and the highlands in what are now south-eastern Turkey, north-eastern Syria, northern Iraq, north-western Iran and south-western Armenia. Today, they form a distinctive community, united through race, culture and language, even though they have no standard dialect. They also adhere to a number of different religions and creeds, although the majority are Sunni Muslims.

Why don't they have a state?
In the early 20th Century, many Kurds began to consider the creation of a homeland - generally referred to as "Kurdistan". After World War One and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the victorious Western allies made provision for a Kurdish state in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres.
Such hopes were dashed three years later, however, when the Treaty of Lausanne, which set the boundaries of modern Turkey, made no provision for a Kurdish state and left Kurds with minority status in their respective countries. Over the next 80 years, any move by Kurds to set up an independent state was brutally quashed.

Why are Kurds at the forefront of the fight against IS?
In mid-2013, IS turned its sights on three Kurdish enclaves that bordered its territory in northern Syria. It launched repeated attacks that until mid-2014 were repelled by the Popular Protection Units (YPG) - the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Unity Party (PYD). The turning point was an offensive in Iraq in June that saw IS overrun the northern city of Mosul, routing Iraqi army divisions and seizing weaponry later moved to Syria.  The jihadists' advance in Iraq also drew that country's Kurds into the conflict. The government of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region sent its Peshmerga forces to areas abandoned by the army.  For a time there were only minor clashes between IS and the Peshmerga, but in August the jihadists launched a shock offensive. The Peshmerga withdrew in disarray, allowing several towns inhabited by religious minorities to fall, notably Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis where sheltering. Alarmed by the Peshmerga's defeat and the potential massacre of the Yazidis fleeing Sinjar, the US launched air strikes in northern Iraq and sent military advisers. European countries meanwhile began sending weapons to the Peshmerga. The YPG and Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) also came to their aid. Although the jihadists were gradually forced back by the Peshmerga in Iraq, they did not stop trying to capture the Kurdish enclaves in Syria. In mid-September, IS launched an assault on the enclave around the northern town of Kobane, forcing more than 160,000 people to flee into Turkey.  Despite this, Turkey refused to attack IS positions near the border or allow Kurds to cross to defend it, triggering Kurdish protests and a threat from the PKK to pull out of its peace talks with the government. However, it was not until mid-October that Ankara agreed to allow Peshmerga fighters to join the battle for Kobane.

Why won't Turkey help the Kurds defending Kobane?

There is deep-seated hostility between the Turkish state and the country's Kurds, who constitute 15% to 20% of the population. Kurds received harsh treatment at the hands of the Turkish authorities for generations. In response to uprisings in the 1920s and 1930s, many Kurds were resettled, Kurdish names and costumes were banned, the use of the Kurdish language was restricted and even the existence of a Kurdish ethnic identity was denied, with people designated "Mountain Turks". In 1978, Abdullah Ocalan established the PKK, which called for an independent state within Turkey. Six years later, the group began an armed struggle. Since then, more than 40,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.  In the 1990s the PKK rolled back on its demand for independence, calling instead for greater cultural and political autonomy, but continued to fight. In 2012, the government and PKK began peace talks and the following year a ceasefire was agreed. PKK fighters were told to withdraw to northern Iraq, but clashes have continued  Although Ankara considers IS a threat, it also fears that Turkish Kurds will cross into Syria to join the PYD - an offshoot of the PKK - and then use its territory to launch attacks on Turkey. It has also said it is not prepared to step up efforts to help the US-led coalition against IS unless the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is also one of its goals.

What do Syria's Kurds want?
Kurds make up between 7% and 10% of Syria's population, with most living in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo, and in three, non-contiguous areas around Kobane, the north-western town of Afrin, and the north-eastern city of Qamishli. Syria's Kurds have long been suppressed and denied basic rights. Some 300,000 have been denied citizenship since the 1960s, and Kurdish land has been confiscated and redistributed to Arabs in an attempt to "Arabize" Kurdish regions. The state has also sought to limit Kurdish demands for greater autonomy by cracking down on protests and arresting political   The Kurdish enclaves were relatively unscathed by the first two years of the Syrian conflict. The main Kurdish parties avoided taking sides. In mid-2012, government forces withdrew to concentrate on fighting the rebels elsewhere, after which Kurdish groups took control. The Democratic Unity Party (PYD) quickly established itself as the dominant force, straining relations with smaller parties who formed the Kurdistan National Council (KNC). They nevertheless united to declare the formation of a Kurdish regional government in January 2014. They also stressed that they were not seeking independence but "local democratic administration".
Will Iraq's Kurds gain independence?
Kurds make up an estimated 15% to 20% of Iraq's population. They have historically enjoyed more national rights than Kurds living in neighbouring states, but also faced brutal repression. Kurds in the north of Iraq revolted against British rule during the mandate era, but were crushed. In 1946, Mustafa Barzani formed the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to fight for autonomy in Iraq. After the 1958 revolution, a new constitution recognised Kurdish nationality. But Barzani's plan for self-rule was rejected by the Arab-led central government and the KDP launched an armed struggle in 1961.  In 1970, the government offered a deal to end the fighting that gave the Kurds a de facto autonomous region. But it ultimately collapsed and fighting resumed in 1974. A year later, divisions within the KDP saw Jalal Talabani leave and form the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).In the late 1970s, the government began settling Arabs in areas with Kurdish majorities, particularly around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and forcibly relocating Kurds. The policy was accelerated in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, in which the Kurds backed the Islamic republic. In 1988, Saddam Hussein unleashed a campaign of vengeance on the Kurds that included the poison-gas attack on Halabja.  When Iraq was defeated in the 1991 Gulf War Barzani's son, Massoud, led a Kurdish rebellion. Its violent suppression prompted the US and its allies to impose a no-fly zone in the north that allowed Kurds to enjoy self-rule. The KDP and PUK agreed to share power, but tensions rose and a four-year internal conflict erupted in 1994  The two parties co-operated with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein and have participated in all governments formed since then. They have also governed in coalition in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), created in 2005 to administer the three provinces of Dohuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniya.
After the IS offensive in June, the KRG sent the Peshmerga into disputed areas claimed by the Kurds and the central government, and then asked the Kurdish parliament to plan a referendum on independence.  However, it is unclear whether the Kurds will press ahead with self-determination, or push for a more independent entity within a federal Iraq.

^ I have to admit that I didn't know much about the Kurds until recently (except for meeting some when I lived in Germany.) I don't know about the Kurdish people as a whole, but I have focused on the ones living in Iraq (mostly around Erbil) and they seem like a group of hard-working, determined people. I know someone who lived in Baghdad for several years and now is in Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) and they see an instant difference in the two groups. Not only do the Kurds love Americans and other Westerners while the Iraqi soldiers flee the Kurds stand, fight and win. Turkey doesn't seem to care about anyone other than Turks. They deny they carried out a genocide against the Armenians and they continue to deny and discriminate against the Kurds in Turkey (while the Turks also refuse to aid its NATO co-members in the ISIS fight.) Maybe Turkey shouldn't be in NATO if they refuse to do anything - even in their own backyard. The US and other countries need to support the Kurds as they are really our only solution to stopping ISIS since Turkey refuses to, Syria won't and Iraq can't. ^

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ottawa Attacks

From the G & M:
"What unfolded during the attack in Ottawa"

The attack on Parliament Hill began with a shooting at the National War Memorial shortly before 10 a.m. A gunman with long black hair approached a soldier standing guard before the cenotaph and fired a long-barrelled weapon at least twice, witnesses say, dropping the wounded soldier to the ground. He was declared dead at hospital hours later.  The gunman then marched across the street to Parliament Hill. It is not clear whether one or more gunmen entered the Parliament Buildings, but dozens of shots were fired. The explosive rattle of gunfire rang through the halls where MPs, journalists and others were ushered to safety and huddled in locked rooms. One gunman was shot dead in Parliament’s Centre Block. One parliamentary guard was shot in the leg and another was grazed. Several MPs reported that the gunman was killed by Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, who is a former police officer although is not normally armed. As police rushed to the scene and civilians scrambled for cover chaos reigned in the area around Parliament Hill. There were reports of gunmen on rooftops in the area. Gunfire was reported near the Château Laurier hotel just before 11 a.m. One report suggested a gunman had escaped on a motorcycle, speeding away on the Queensway highway, but that has not been confirmed. Parliament remains on lockdown. It is not clear yet how many gunmen are involved in the attacks. Many reports have suggested two or three or possibly more. The targets chosen are clearly of some political significance: The tomb of the unknown soldier, the seat of government and the city’s best-known place of commerce. The attacks come just two days after a Canadian soldier was killed in an apparently targeted hit-and-run incident in Quebec. Security officials had just raised the security threat level from low to medium, possibly related to the deployment of Canadian soldiers and planes to the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but not in response to any specific threat. Construction worker Barry Wills told The Globe and Mail that shortly after the first shots were heard, he saw someone hijack a vehicle close to the Parliament Buildings. “I saw this guy, he had a head wrap, he came whipping through the gates, and he had a shotgun,” Mr. Wills said. “He looked back at me, I dove behind my truck. … He hijacked a car, he told the guy to get out of a black car … he drove up, and he went into Centre Block.” At 11:20 a.m., an eight-member police SWAT team with a dog enter Parliament’s Centre Block on the run. They emerged from the main doors and re-entered though the centre doors in the basement.
Police said no arrests have yet been made. “As far I know no one is under arrest,” said Constable Marc Soucy of the Ottawa Police Service. He also said he was “not aware” that any suspects had been shot. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were all reported safe. Mr. Harper was in a secure location and was briefed by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson. The PM was scheduled to appear at an event in Toronto with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai later Wednesday but that event has been cancelled. He will speak to Canadians at some point later Wednesday. The soldier shot at the War Memorial was treated at Ottawa Civic hospital. He has not yet been named, but he is a reservist from Hamilton with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The hospital said two other patients have been admitted and are in stable condition. On Parliament Hill, police were going room by room, clearing offices and breaking down locked doors. Some MPs had barricaded themselves in the Conservative caucus room, piling chairs high against the doors. Many other MPs tweeted that they were safe as the security operation continued to unfold around them.

^ No one thinks that Canada would get attacked and so they (Canadians) tend to think see the countries like the US and Israel (that try to stop the groups that want to attack us) as bullies and policing the world. These attacks in the Canadian capital show both Canadians and the other countries that don't take these threats and attacks seriously that they are real and not just made to scare people or push back other domestic issues. Unfortunately, innocent people had to die, but hopefully now the world (and Canada) will do more against Al-Qaeda and ISIS. ^

Forced Airports

From Yahoo:
"Homeland Security orders new screening for Ebola"

Everyone coming to the United States from the three West African countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak will now be screened for the deadly disease at one of five airports, the Homeland Security Department said Tuesday. Earlier this month, Customs and Border Protection officers at New York's Kennedy, Newark Liberty, Washington's Dulles, Chicago's O'Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airports started screening people arriving from West Africa. The screening includes using no-touch thermometers to determine if travelers have a temperature, one symptom of a possible Ebola infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also working with DHS on the screening. There are no direct flights to the United States from the three Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa. About 94 percent of the roughly 150 people traveling daily from West Africa to the U.S. arrive at the one of the five airports. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Tuesday that now everyone traveling from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea will have to land in the U.S. at one of the five airports and then fly on to their destination. The new requirement means that people traveling from the region who were not originally passing through one of those five airports will have to rebook their flights. Johnson said DHS now has "measures to identify and screen anyone at all land, sea and air ports of entry into the United States who we have reason to believe has been present in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea in the preceding 21 days." Some members of Congress have urged President Barack Obama to ban all travel from West Africa.

^ I'm not sure how the US immigration officials will know if someone came from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea with they are an American, Canadian, European, etc and have no stamps in their passport. The US officials (immigration and health care) didn't know what to do when the Liberian guy came and brought Ebola into the US even though Ebola had been raging there for months. I think the US government and health officials are merely doing the bare minimum to appease people's minds rather than doing what actually needed (the same with the WHO and other countries.) ^

Disability Week

 I got this on Facebook and think it's a good idea for everyone to take a minute and help those with visible and invisible disabilities whether it's holding a door open for them or simply learning more about a disability.

Foreign Signs

From MT:
"Moscow Puts Up Garbled, Unreadable Latin-Letter Street Signs"

The Russian capital has erected new street signs transliterated into Latin letters, but they may be of limited help to tourists because of their unusual spellings.  One example making the rounds in blogs and various media is the name of a downtown square that City Hall has rendered as "Xoxlovskaya ploshhad." The spelling — which defies both Google Maps' standards and The Moscow Times' system — uses the Russian letter "x" rather than transliterating it as "kh," a sound that is much easier for non-Russian speakers to understand. Thus, "Xoxlovskaya Ploshhad" is usually written as "Khokhlovskaya Ploshchad" for foreigners.  Other examples include "Ulicza Volxonka," for what is more commonly known as "Ulitsa Volkhonka," and "Koly'mazhny'j pereulok" ("Kolymazhny" in The Moscow Times' spelling and "Kolymazhnyy" on Google Maps). Online news site on Monday pinpointed the problem: City Hall has apparently been using a transliteration system originally intended only for online use.  The system was meant for people who only have Latin keyboards but want to write in Russian (a common occurrence among Russian emigrants in the 1990s), spelling their messages with Latin letters and then converting them to correct the Cyrillic spelling using computer programs. The system is explicitly defined as being meant for phonetic use in the Russian state-approved technical standards system GOST, prominent blogger Sergei Mukhamedov said last Friday. But this did not deter City Hall, which said it is not planning to make any tweaks to the spellings as it proceeds to install 110,000 new street signs by 2018, said. Moscow allotted 20 million rubles ($500,000) in 2011 for the program to put up new street signs, Interfax reported at the time. The measure was largely meant to make navigating around the city easier for foreign tourists. Moscow accommodated about 5.6 million tourists in 2013, City Hall said earlier.  Russia has struggled with rendering its street names for an English-reading audience before, most notably during the recent Sochi Olympics. Many street names in the southern host city were translated from Russian — not transliterated — resulting in such  oddities as "Shotgun Street" and "Blue Dali Street," names clear to foreign visitors but completely unintelligible to locals.

^ I have been to Moscow many times and there needs to be more for both the Russian tourist as well as the foreign tourist in the capital. As for the transliteration of the signs: I don't understand why the city doesn't just put the signs in Russian and English. Russian international passports use both so why not the rest of the country? . Transliteration is complex while translation can be easier. Rather than saying Moskva you would use Moscow. The majority of the world knows and uses English and so it would make things easier for everyone. The Russians could use English to speak to foreigners and vice versa. Putting up signs that no one will be able to understand is just a waste of time and money. ^

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Rwanda Scanning

From USA Today:
"Rwanda to screen U.S. visitors for Ebola"

The East African nation of Rwanda is requiring all visitors from the United States and Spain to self-monitor, fill out an extensive questionnaire and report their medical condition for the first 21 days of their visits because of the Ebola cases that have surfaced in the two Western countries. Coincidentally or not, the new screening follows an embarrassing uproar in a New Jersey school over the imminent enrollment of two Rwanda children that initially prompted their parents to keep them at home for 21 days. The order by the Rwanda government to visiting Americans and Spaniards was posted Tuesday on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda:
"On October 19, the Rwandan Ministry of Health introduced new Ebola Virus Disease screening requirements. Visitors who have been in the United States or Spain during the last 22 days are now required to report their medical condition—regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms of Ebola—by telephone by dialing 114 between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. for the duration of their visit to Rwanda (if less than 21 days), or for the first 21 days of their visit to Rwanda. Rwandan authorities continue to deny entry to visitors who traveled to Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, or Sierra Leone within the past 22 days."
The U.S. and Spain have both recorded deaths from Ebola. In Dallas, a Liberian national died of the virus two weeks ago and two nurses who treated him tested positive for the virus. At least two Spanish missionaries died in Spain after contracting the disease in West Africa. One Spanish nurse also tested positive for the virus.  Rwanda is located in East Africa about 2,600 miles east of Liberia, the closest of the three West African countries with the Ebola outbreak. Rwanda has been unaffected by the Ebola outbreak on the other side of the continent and has reported no cases of the virus.
The dust-up in New Jersey involving two Rwanda children took a new turn Monday with an apology by the superintendent of the Maple Shade School District in Burlington County. The children were supposed to begin classes Monday at Howard Yocum Elementary School in Maple Shade, N.J., but ran into a backlash from other parents, WTXF-TV in reports. The uproar started after a school nurse sent a note to staff members saying that the school intended to take the temperature of the two students three times a day for the next 3 weeks, the normal incubation period for Ebola.  The letter quickly leaked to parents, stirring up fears and prompting the school district to post a note that their parents had voluntarily decided to keep them at home for 21 days. But on Tuesday, the school district changed course again and apologized for its rash behavior, noting on its website that its schools have "become the unwitting 'face' of our nations fears with regard to pressing health concerns." "None of the actions that have shined the regional light of media exposure on Maple Shade Schools was mean-spirited or ill intended," writes school superintendent Beth Norcia.
She says the school next week "will welcome the new students whose parents graciously offered to keep them close this week." She adds that the schools will "consider the unintended consequences of our messages more carefully in the future. No matter how well-intentioned, a message that originated within our schools created conflict and concern within the Maple Shade community. We offer our sincere apologies."

^ Rwanda has a right to screen Americans, Spanish and any other nationality that has reported an Ebola case, much less a death. The US failed to contain Ebola when it was first brought into the country and the government and health officials has done an awful job in stopping its spread. The fact that those who have been in contact with Ebola have been allowed  to travel across the country and go on cruises just shows how disorganized and confused those that are supposed to help us, keep us safe and get us better don't have a clue on what they are doing. It is one thing to not have a cure or vaccine for Ebola and another to not know how to isolate the people who have contact with the disease to travel freely, mingle with other people and possibly spread the disease. Until the US (the WHO and other countries) gets their act together and starts following basic, common sense (ie isolating those who could have the disease from everyone else) then countries like Rwanda should do what they feel necessary to protect their citizens - since Obama, other US government officials, the CDC and the healthcare officials in Texas don't seem to care about keeping the rest of us safe and disease-free. ^