Sunday, November 30, 2014

Union Strike

From the BBC:
"Lufthansa pilots prepare for fresh strike"

Pilots at Lufthansa, Europe's biggest airline, will go on strike on Monday and Tuesday as their dispute over retirement benefits continues. The walkout, the ninth since April, will affect short- and medium-haul flights across Germany from 12.00 (11:00 GMT) until 23.00. The VC union also said Lufthansa's long-haul and cargo services would affected on Tuesday. Lufthansa asked for new talks and called the strike disproportionate. The airline wants to phase out its early retirement scheme, something the pilots are strongly opposed to.  They are currently able to retire at the age of 55 and receive up to 60% of their pay until the standard retirement age of 65.  Lufthansa said it had made concessions in recent talks, including giving the pilots a 5% pay rise. The strikes this year have knocked $160m (£102m) off the airlines' operating profits. The union said "despite all efforts for compromise proposals" by Lufthansa pilots during several rounds of negotiations since October, it had been unable to come to a satisfactory agreement with the company's management.

^ This is a complete disgrace on the part of the VC union. They clearly do not care about doing their jobs and putting the passengers first. This is their 9th strike this year alone. The Union should realize that every time they go on strike thousands of innocent people around the world are affected. Not only that but the airline looses its credibility as people look for other airlines to fly. If the airline looses money then they don't need as many employees, etc. I'm surprised the German Government doesn't do something about this 9th strike. What they need is a person like President Reagan who told the striking Air Traffic Controllers to go back to work or else. When many didn't he fired over 11,000 of them and banned them from civil service for life. That showed people that he meant business and they couldn't just put other people's lives on hold. There was once a need for unions around the world, but today they are only needed in Third World, developing countries. The majority of Union reps (around the industrialized world) are not in it to make things better for the ordinary worker, but to make their own lives richer. It is Unions like this one that make all the jokes where you have 16 people taking 2 days to change 1 light bulb (because of "union rules.") I'm not saying Lufthansa is  perfect, but they are being held hostage by their union and so is every person around the world who was booked to fly them. I am going to Germany, but luckily I am on another airline. Coming back though I could be affected if the Union doesn't get it's act together and do what is right for everyone and get back to work. ^

New Francophonie

From G & M:
"Michaëlle Jean elected new head of la Francophonie"

Former Governor-General Michaëlle Jean was chosen Sunday to lead la Francophonie, as the organization of French-speaking states places a renewed focus on economic development.
She will serve as Secretary-General for a four year term, taking over from former Senegalese president Abdou Diouf. Ms. Jean, whose candidacy was backed by Canada, Quebec and New Brunswick, was named to the position by consensus after the four other candidates vying for the organization’s top job bowed out. Quebec and New Brunswick have status as participating governments at la Francophonie. La Francophonie is made up of 57 member states and its goals include democratic development, conflict resolution, cultural dialogue and economic co-operation.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who attended the meeting with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and New Brunswick’s Brian Gallant, congratulated Jean in a statement. “I am especially pleased that, for the first time in its history, la Francophonie has elected a Canadian woman as its head,” he said. “Thanks to her impressive qualifications and her vast experience...Ms. Jean is the ideal person to promote French and the values of the Organisation. “She will embody the renewal and modernity that la Francophonie of the 21st century needs, and will listen to heads of state and government and their citizens.” The Canadian government is interested in seeing la Francophonie place a greater emphasis on economic development, a key plank in Ms. Jean’s platform.“People are seeing in this economic strategy, some hope, a new relevance for la Francophonie. You know, countries, people and civilizations came together by doing business together,” Ms. Jean said.  Canada is the second-largest contributor to la Francophonie but most of the organization’s members are African.A former journalist, Ms. Jean served as Canada’s governor general from 2005 to 2010. She has since served as UNESCO special envoy to Haiti and Chancellor of the University of Ottawa. She also launched the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, which works to empower youth. Ms. Jean was born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, and her family immigrated to Canada in 1968 to escape the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier.

^ It will be interesting to see if La Francophonie will modernize into the 21st Century (along with the majority of it's member states.) ^

Saturday, November 29, 2014

German Markets

From the DW:
"Christmas markets ring in German festive season"

German Christmas markets have become an international hit in England, the United States and even in Japan. But nowhere is the choice of gingerbread, incense burners and mulled wine greater than in Germany. Wooden huts and stands selling hot drinks, roasted almonds and Christmas decorations - these are prevalent in German city squares in the run-up to Christmas. Around 1,500 Christmas markets - both big and small - take place every year in Germany, with at least one in pretty much in every town. Some of these have a tradition and history going back centuries. Others are newer, more modern versions whose bumper cars and beer stands seem more like a winter fairground. But whether modern or traditional, "the run on the Christmas markets remains unabated," said Hans-Peter Ahrens, chairman of the German federal association of market stall holders and traveling performers. The markets attracted some 85 million visitors last year, up considerable from the 50 million who visited markets in 2000. The traditional Christmas markets in particular continue to pull visitors from around the world into the historic city centers. The most famous of those is probably the "Christkindlesmarkt" in Nuremberg.   The name derives from the Christkind - or Christ Child - who these days is picked every two years by the citizens of Nuremberg. Dressed as an angel, with a golden crown and wings, the child climbs on to the gallery of the Frauenkirche and festively opens the market by reciting the prologue of the Christ Child poem. At the 160 stands in the historic town center visitors can find everything from hand-crafted toys and gifts to regional specialties, such as "Zwetschgenmännla" - a figure intricately decorated with dried fruit. There are some 350 variations of this figure, from a chimney sweep all the way to a courting couple. The oldest Christmas market is, according to its organizers, is the "Striezelmarkt" in Dresden - which will be taking place for the 580th time this year. Towering at its center is the 14-meter Christmas pyramid - a carousel based on a Christmas decoration that has its roots in the Erzgebirge mountain range of central Germany. Traditionally, as part of the Dresden Stollen festival, the biggest Christstollen fruitcake is baked. A horse-drawn carriage takes the cake, which weighs between three and four tons, in a parade through the streets of Dresden's baroque old town center to the Christmas market, where it is ceremoniously cut into pieces and distributed among the crowd, for a small sum which goes to charity. Apart from the world famous Christmas markets there are lots of smaller ones, where one can enjoy a festive atmosphere and mug of mulled wine.  Like on the popular Romantic Road, the small Bavarian town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Its medieval old town center, known globally as a setting for many films such as "Chitty Chitty Bang Ban," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to name but a few, make it is a tourist magnet all year round, which has proven to be particularly popular with visitors from Asia. This year, the "Reiterlesmarkt" opens here on November 28. Lending its name to the market, the "Reiterle" is a mystical figure believed to be an envoy from another world that floated through the ether with the souls of the deceased at winter time. This figure is not there to scare anyone and is actually rather a benign mascot for the market.
In the UNESCO Heritage town of Quedlinburg, the approximately 2,000 timber-framed houses provide a picturesque setting for the city's Christmas market. It is located on the splendidly decorated market place in the historic town center. A highlight here is the largest Advent calendar in Germany. Every day from December 1st until the 24th, the door of one of two dozen houses with Christmas decorations around the castle-hill is opened. Whatever fairy tales and sweet surprises are waiting behind each door, the children discover one day at a time and then only once the door is opened.  Mulled wine enthusiasts in big cities get to chose from a variety of Christmas markets. 
In Hamburg the historical Christmas market in front of the town hall is known for its art handicraft and unusual gift ideas. Three times a day you can also admire Santa as he flies over the market in his sleigh. Things are a little bawdier in the red light Reeperbahn neighborhood. At the Santa Pauli Christmas market, angels wait to reveal all to paying customers in the striptease tent and the porn karaoke is happy to have visitors groan and moan to their heart's content. In the western German city of Cologne there are seven Christmas markets. The biggest one, located next to Cologne Cathedral, with some 4 million visitors, boasts the highest attendance in all of Germany. Berlin can not compete with attendance figures like that, but with 80 markets of all sizes the capital takes the lead in the overall number of Christmas markets. At these Christmas markets there is something for everyone. At the "Winter Dream" market on Alexanderplatz with its big dippers and shooting galleries fairground fans get their money's worth. The Gendarmenmarkt features lots of places to wine and dine as well as enjoy the stage show.  Those hoping to escape the big city hustle and bustle make their way to the "Lucia Christmas market" which can be found in the courtyards of the Kulturbrauerei in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district. A small village has been created on the compound of the 19th century industrial memorial site. Named after Lucia, the Nordic goddess of light, the market is dedicated to Scandinavian countries. "Winter, Christmas and nature are the things most commonly associated with Nordic and Scandinavian countries," said Simone Hoffman from the Lucia Christmas market. At any rate, there is plenty of entertainment to keep everyone busy until Christmas.

^ I love going to German Christmas Markets. Of course it was easier to go to them when we lived in West Germany and then again in Germany. Even when we moved back to the States we were able to go back to them. We made a special side-trip to Munich  (that's when I took the above picture) on our way to Dubrovnik, Croatia just to go to the Christmas Market there. It was a fun time. ^

Doctor Protest

From Yahoo:
"Russian doctor rebellion causes headache for Putin"

Dr. Semyon Galperin spent a decade in medical research in Russia and as much time in the United States, working at top hospitals and research companies. Despite his expertise, Galperin was recently given a stark ultimatum from the Moscow hospital where he works: Leave or stay on as a lowly hospital attendant. Galperin's job is being eliminated as part of a sweeping reform in which at least 28 Moscow hospitals are to be closed and up to 10,000 medical staff fired, an overhaul that officials say is needed to modernize a decrepit Soviet-era health system. On Sunday, thousands of doctors and their patients are set to march against the reform as part of the first mass social protest in Russia in nearly a decade — a threat to President Vladimir Putin who faced down a wave of political protests launched in 2011 and is now struggling with a faltering economy. The doctors' rebellion started early this month, when thousands took to the streets to protest the layoffs and hospital closures. Last time a similar protest happened in 2005, Putin became so alarmed that within a week he overturned the scrapping of social benefits for millions of pensioners and the disabled, and in fact doubled pensions instead. Aware of the potential fall-out of this protest, Putin last week asked the Moscow government to reconsider the reform as his human rights council hosted a round table discussion with prominent doctors and trade unions that were not consulted when the reform was launched. At Moscow's Hospital 11, Galperin is vowing to stay on even if that means working as an attendant: "I can't leave work because we decided to fight till the end," he said. Moscow officials say they are only complying with a 2010 Russian law designed to help hospitals complete a transition from the Soviet-era economy and make them self-reliant by cutting budget subsidies to a minimum. Moscow Health Care Department spokeswoman Elina Nikolayeva defended the firings as inevitable: "Some of the doctors who are being fired are underqualified," she said. "Some of them don't have enough workload."  The doctors' unrest is particularly problematic for Putin because almost all of them are state employees — the core of his support base. Russia has enjoyed low unemployment of about 5 percent in the last decade because of heavy subsidies to state enterprises, schools and hospitals. Following the political protests, Putin won his third term office in 2012 largely because state employees believed in his promise to increase their living standards. Now, that very promise seems to be backfiring. Moscow officials are carrying out the health care reform in order to make good on Putin's election pledge to boost the livelihoods of public servants — including a vow to make doctors' salaries twice that of the average employee by 2018. Moscow Deputy Mayor Leonid Pechatnikov says that had it not been for Putin's pledge, the health reform would not be so fast or brutal. Moscow's health care system is a relic of the communist health care system under which every citizen was entitled to free medical services. In a bid to save funds, Moscow health care officials are focusing on promoting neighborhood clinics that will provide comprehensive care and keep people out of hospital beds. The reforms were not discussed with the medical community, however, and their details only became public in October following a leak in the press. Doctors and hospitals that found themselves in the vortex of the reform have not been told why they are being phased out or what is going to happen to their patients.  At Hospital 11 where Galperin works, 136 out of its 320 medical staff, mostly doctors, were given the notice and the hospital is to be shuttered by April. Grilled about the hospital's closing, Deputy Mayor Pechatnikov told a session of the presidential human rights council last week that the hospital "monopolized" the treatment of multiple sclerosis in Moscow, making it impossible to get treatment elsewhere in the city. Meanwhile, Putin's objection to the Moscow health reform appears to be making its mark. In a statement last week, the presidential human rights council called for a halt to the layoffs and insisted that in its current form, the reform violates a constitutional right to free health care. The Moscow health department held a number of roundtables with medical professionals, while Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin offered additional severance pay of up to 500,000 rubles ($10,700) per doctor. But that has not yet translated into any concrete action. Meanwhile, some patients fear that the reform will hurt them the most. Ales Kochevnik, 29, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago. Treatment allows her to live a more or less a normal life, albeit one interrupted by fits that can leave parts of her body temporarily paralyzed. "They taught me to walk five times," the young artist says of Hospital 11. "It's a scary disease. It can strike at any moment. A couple of times I was sitting with friends drinking coffee, and within 15 minutes it would strike." On a recent afternoon, Kochevnik went to Red Square to lay down on its cobbled pavement in protest. Supporters stood by, each carrying an IV drip. One held a poster reading: "A hospital without doctors is a mortuary."

^ I have seen my Russian friends experience the current Russian health care system (not in Moscow) and I was lucky I never needed to get any care when I was over there. You had to bring everything yourself from medicines to food. It reminded me of a Third World country. It  was very depressing to see the people I knew go through that. It's clear that Russia needs to modernize its health care system, but I hope they can find a way to do it that would help the doctors, nurses and most importantly the patients. ^

Friday, November 28, 2014

Pope Against ISIS

From USA Today:
"Pope urges more Muslim opposition to IS in Turkey"

Pope Francis urged Muslim leaders to condemn the "barbaric violence" being committed in Islam's name against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria as he arrived in neighboring Turkey Friday for a delicate visit aimed at improving interfaith ties. Francis sought to offer a balanced message as he met with Turkish political and religious officials at the start of his second trip to the Middle East this year. He reaffirmed that military force was justified to halt the Islamic State group's advance, and called for greater dialogue between Christians, Muslims and people of all faiths to end fundamentalism. "As religious leaders, we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human rights," Francis told Mehmet Gormez, Turkey's top cleric and other religious officials gathered at the government-run Religious Affairs Directorate. "As such, any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation because the omnipotent is the God of life and peace." Francis condemned the "barbaric violence" by IS against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities and the destruction of their places of worship. The Vatican has voiced particular concern about the expulsion of Christians from communities that have had a Christian presence for 2,000 years and has demanded that they be allowed to return home in safety once the conflict settles.
Francis' three-day visit to the Muslim nation comes at a sensitive moment for Turkey, as it struggles to cope with 1.6 million refugees fleeing the IS advance in Syria and weighs how to respond to U.S. calls to get more engaged with the international coalition fighting the extremists. Turkey has accused the group of casting a shadow over Islam and has said Muslim countries have a duty to stand up against its radical views. But Turkey is still negotiating with the United States over helping the coalition, pressing for a safe haven and a no-fly zone along the Syrian border with Turkey and demanding the coalition go after Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. Turkey has long been accused of turning a blind eye to IS fighters entering Syria from its territory in the hope that it would hasten Assad's downfall — charges it denies. Erdogan said he hoped Francis' visit would strengthen ties between Christians and Muslims. But the pope's visit was met largely with indifference among Turkey's people, 99 percent of whom are Muslim. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said it was clear Francis "was not exactly in his milieu" in carrying out all the protocol required of him by his Turkish hosts, paying his respects at the mausoleum, inspecting the turquoise-uniformed honor guard and being received at Erdogan's enormous and controversial $620 million new palace, which environmentalists and architects have opposed. Lombardi said it was a more excessive protocol than Francis was used to, but that he did it out of respect for his hosts.

^ It's great to see the Pope voicing his concern against ISIS and all the violence they commit. The threat of ISIS is real and hasn't gone away even though its not mentioned much on the news anymore. ^

Training Fear

From the DW:
"Driven by fear of Russia, Estonians flock to national guard"

Each day an average of three people have joined Estonia's national guard this year. Estonians worry Russia could one day turn its aggression on them, and they want to be ready. Isabelle de Pommereau reports from Tallinn.  Last time Alo Looke and his university buddies got together over coffee, they spoke of little else but the Russian annexation of Crimea and Russia's moves into eastern Ukraine. "Then we thought, what do we do if something ever happens in Estonia?" said Looke, who manages advertising for the Estonian National Opera. "We can't just sit around and do nothing." The answer from Looke's friends came fast: Join the country's volunteer army. So far this year, 30-year-old Looke and close to 1,000 other Estonians have flocked to the Estonian Defense League, the country's voluntary national guard. This doubles the number of new recruits compared to last year's figures. Created in 1918 after Estonian won independence from Russia, it was disbanded when the Soviet army took over the country in 1940. The recent jump in paramilitary enlistment is the biggest since the League, or Kaitseliit, was reinstated in 1991.  With 1.3 million people, Estonia has only 3,800 professional soldiers, but some 14,545 Defense League volunteers, who train to fight, swelling the ranks of the country's protectors - be it for riots or war. Like the 140 members of the Estonian volunteer cyber army, they report to the Defense Department. Neighboring countries are also witnessing huge jumps in their paramilitary enlistments - the Riflemen's Union in Lithuania as well as Latvia's and Poland's reserve home guards. "Ukraine has boosted the will to join," says Kaitseliit commander Brig. Gen. Meelis Kiili. "We Estonians are very peaceful, even pacifists, but we are going through a trying time and people are starting to ask, 'what can I do for my country?'" In addition to action in Ukraine, Moscow has committed repeated violation of military air space and maritime intrusion in the Nordic and Baltic sea regions. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told US, German and Estonian troops assembled at Estonia's Ämari Airbase last week that Baltic air police have conducted some 400 intercepts of Russian military flights near its member countries this year - twice as many as a year ago. Not seen since Cold War times, "it's risky and unjustified," Stoltenberg said. While Baltic countries have asked for a permanent NATO presence on their soil and bigger defense budgets, ordinary citizens of all stripes have been offering themselves up for the country. "Western European nations have lived in peace and security for so long that younger people take security for granted; it just exists, and you start forgetting about the values of democracy, peace and security," says Martin Hurt of the International Center for Defense Studies, a Tallinn-based think tank on defense issues in the Baltic and Eastern European regions. "In the Baltic states and Poland, people do not see security and defense as a given, and they want to contribute themselves." Kaitseliit recruits range from high schools students to Estonians who fought as Soviet conscripts in Afghanistan. Estonian IT college professor Linnar Viik says that history is what gives Estonians a sense of civic duty difficult to find in many Western European countries. "The concept of independence is fragile and sensitive and important in Estonia," Viik says. "It's a prestigious thing to be in the Defense League," says Raivo Tamm. A TV legend, he's better known for his lead role in the black comedy "Mushrooming," which landed him the title of best actor in 2012, than for wearing military fatigues. "There is always a threat from the East, and I cannot forget about it. "Unfortunately, our history has shown we have to be prepared," agrees Andres Lehtmets. A medical student in Soviet times and now the head of the Estonian Psychiatric Association, he recently joined the League, at 50. "If you see where Russia is driving at the moment, you see certain parallels in the ideology." One concern is that Russia could stir things among Estonia's Russian speakers, who make up a third of the people living here. For example in the Russian enclave of Narva, Estonia's third-largest city, on the Russian border. "We all know it: If a Russian citizen gets killed, Putin intervenes and says, we have to help our citizen who was killed by Estonian police," says Mati Sild, 22. "In today's world, war starts in the media and people's heads."

^ It is completely understandable that people who either used to live in the Soviet Union (from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) and those that were Soviet satellite states (Poland and the rest of eastern Europe) to fear what the Russians are currently doing in both Georgia and the Ukraine. They should also know that while it is good to put up a show of resistance (like the Kyiv Government is trying to do) none of these countries can win over the Russians. The only saving-grace would be if Russia attacked an EU or NATO country and then they would have more of a chance (even then I think the EU would do nothing more than talk.) I hope nothing comes of these recruitments and training and that cooler heads will prevail from the east. ^

Offending Vague

From MT:
"Draft Bill Wants to Restrict Entry for Foreigners Who 'Offend' Russia"

Russian lawmakers have drafted a vaguely worded bill allowing the country to deny entry to foreigners who have "offended" the state or its citizens, in a move that could give Moscow greater power to shut its borders to critics of the Kremlin. According to the bill, published Thursday on the State Duma website and authored by two members of the ruling United Russia party, Russia would control its borders in line with the "principle of reciprocity," countering foreign countries' restrictions on the entry of Russian citizens with mirror measures. The suggested amendments to Russia's migration law would also allow Russia to deny entry to foreign citizens and stateless persons who are perceived as having committed acts against the country's national interests, the Russian state or its individuals. Russian officials have repeatedly accused the West of undermining its interests in recent months — accusing the U.S. and Saudi Arabia of holding down oil prices to punish Moscow and Western nations of trying to meddle in Ukraine, a country with which Russia has strong historical and cultural ties.
The bill would also allow Russia to deny entry to anyone who has offended the country's "national, historical, spiritual, cultural or other social values" — largely intangible concepts that could be used to prevent anyone critical of Russia's conservative administration from crossing the border.
In a note accompanying the bill, co-authors Deputy Rizvan Kurbanov and Senator Lyudmila Bokova said: "The [proposals] correspond to the generally recognized principles of international law while taking into account the relevant aspects of the current foreign policy situation." Kurbanov and Bokova concluded that the amendments were necessary "to protect … the rights and legitimate interests of the citizens of the Russian Federation, Russian society and our country as a whole."

^ It seems a little too vague.  ^

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving. We got 26 inches of snow in one day. I am having the traditional meal of: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweat potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie. It will be a great feast. Too bad it is only for me (and maybe my dogs.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

VA Pot

From the Stars and Stripes:
"New bill would allow the VA to recommend medical marijuana for patients"

Arguing that medical marijuana may help wounded warriors with anxiety and stress disorders to "survive and thrive," Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., have introduced legislation that would allow Department of Veterans Affairs’ doctors to recommend the drug for some patients. The Veterans Equal Access Act and would challenge the VA’s policy that forbids doctors from consulting about medical pot use. Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported about the issue. "We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows," said Blumenauer in a statement. The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin and LSD, deeming that it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. That means that VA, which runs the largest network of hospitals and health clinics in the country, cannot prescribe pot as a treatment, even for veterans who live in a state where medical marijuana is legal. VA says that its physicians and chronic-pain specialists "are prohibited from recommending and prescribing medical marijuana for PTSD or other pain-related issues." Medical staff are also prohibited from completing paperwork required to enroll in state marijuana programs because they are "federal employees who must comply with federal law," said Gina Jackson, a VA spokeswoman. Over 20 percent of the 2.8 million American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD and depression, according to the Blumenauer statement. In addition, a recent study found that of the nearly one million veterans who receive opioids to treat painful conditions, more than half continue to consume chronically or beyond 90 days, their statement said. Another study found that the death rate from opiate overdoses among VA patients is nearly double the national average. "In states where patients can legally access medical marijuana for painful conditions, often as a less-addictive alternative, the hands of VA physicians should not be tied," the statement said. Researchers in the United States and several other countries have found evidence that cannabis can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder and pain, although studies - such as those looking into the best strains and proper dosages - remain in the early stages. Michael Krawitz, executive director of Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access, said they "are very proud to stand by Congressman Blumenauer and support the Veterans Equal Access Act." "The Veterans Health Administration has made it very clear that, as federal employees, they lack the free speech necessary to write the recommendations for Veterans to comply with state programs," said Krawitz. "This legislation is needed to correct that legal situation and repair this VA doctor patient relationship." The status quo has numerous harmful effects, said Blumenauer. "It forces veterans into the black market to self-medicate," he said. "It prevents doctors from giving their best and honest advice and recommendations. And it pushes both doctors and their patients toward drugs that are potentially more harmful and more addictive. It’s insane, and it has to stop." Though pot is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government, 23 states permit medical marijuana use, including Oregon and California.

^ Anything that can help those in pain should be made available to every patient (whether they are soldiers or civilians..) Sadly, people only tend to change their minds about these kinds of things when they are going through the pain themselves or watching a loved one go through it. The Federal Government and the State Governments need to make medical marijuana legal for those that really need it. ^

Shoes Stolen

From the BBC:
"Thieves steal Holocaust victims' shoes at Polish museum"

Eight shoes belonging to Jewish Holocaust victims have been stolen from a former concentration camp in Poland. The theft took place at the Majdanek museum near Lublin between 18 and 20 November, police said.  Previous items stolen from the museum include victim's ashes and a cap from a prisoner.  More than 78,000 people were sent to the gas chambers at Majdanek which was built by the Nazis in 1941 and abandoned in 1944. The shoes were reported missing after a museum employee realised that a wire net over a display of 56,000 shoes had been cut.  A spokesman from the museum said that the exhibit aimed to show visitors the scale of the Nazis' crime.  He said that the theft was "a great loss to the museum" as these objects have "huge historical value." In 2013, a Jewish prisoner's hat was stolen from Majdanak but was later recovered by the FBI after the thief tried to sell it online.  The ashes of victims from the camp's crematorium were also stolen in 1989 but were never recovered.  In October, an iron gate bearing the Nazi slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work sets you free") was stolen from the former Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

^ It's clear that the different Holocaust Museums and Memorials (especially in Europe) are not able to correctly secure themselves are their artifacts. First Auschwitz, then Dachau and now Majdanak. The EU and its member states need to fix their flawed security systems in place to make sure these thefts aren't repeated. It may not seem like a big deal, but if everyone were to take a shoe or a hair brush, etc then evidence of what the Nazis did will also disappear. These are personal affects from the victims and survivors and need to be treated as irreplaceable (because they are.) ^

Snow Holiday

From USA Today:
"Winter storm targets East Coast for Thanksgiving Eve"

A storm is on target to deliver a messy mix of rain and snow to the East on Wednesday, leading to travel troubles for the millions of people traveling by air or car on the busy day before Thanksgiving.
Though the precipitation will start as rain, as much as a half-foot of snow is possible in the New York City area, according to the National Weather Service. Totals for the other big cities include 3-7 inches in Boston, 2-3 inches in Philadelphia and maybe an inch in Washington, D.C. "This will be a significant East Coast storm with major impacts to air and road travel Wednesday and Wednesday night," said Weather Channel meteorologist Matt Siskowski. "In most cases, the worst time to travel in the mid-Atlantic and New England due to the storm will be on Wednesday and Wednesday night," said AccuWeather meteorologist Elliot Abrams. American, Delta and United are already waiving rebooking fees to cities in the storm's path. There will be about 2.27 million air travelers Wednesday, said Victoria Day, a spokeswoman with Airlines for America.  "I would pack your patience," said Robert Sinclair of AAA New York. "Unfortunately, the storm is scheduled to hit right in the middle of getaway day." He said an estimated 41.3 million travelers were expected to hit the nation's highways for the holiday weekend, which is a 4.3% increase over last year. The storm is forecast to develop off the coast of the Carolinas early Wednesday and strengthen as it moves rapidly up the East Coast Wednesday into early Thursday, according to the weather service. "Heavy snow is likely to begin in the central Appalachians early Wednesday morning, spreading northeast through the interior Mid-Atlantic into New England by Wednesday night," the weather service reports. The storm will bring mostly snow to the I-81 swath in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, I-84 in southeastern New York state, as well as much of interior New England, where a general 6-12 inches of snow are forecast. Winter storm watches and warnings have been issued for much of the eastern USA, all the way from the mountains of North Carolina to northern Maine, a distance of more than 1,000 miles. About 20 million people in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast are under some form of winter weather alert. The Weather Channel has dubbed the storm Winter Storm Cato.

^ One pet peeve I have is those people who say "you need to pack your patience" - especially when its travel-related. That is a very dumb statement. If I packed my patience then I do not have it for when people or the weather screw things up. We had heavy rain yesterday (which got rid of all the old snow) and today it was sunny and above-normal temperatures. We are supposed to get at least a foot of snow from this storm. I don't have anyplace to go for the holiday so bring it on. ^


From the Stars and Stripes:
"Ferguson businesses torched in overnight protests"

Smoke billowed from burned-out buildings and sidewalks were strewn with broken glass in Ferguson, Missouri, following a grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer in the killing of an unarmed black 18-year-old in one of America's most racially charged cases in recent years.
Firefighters doused the blackened remains of some businesses Tuesday morning and at least one building was still ablaze. Some Ferguson stores that weren't burned had smashed display windows, but the streets of the St. Louis suburb were mostly clear. Monday night's destruction appeared to be much worse than protests after August's shootings, with more than a dozen businesses badly damaged or destroyed. Authorities reported hearing hundreds of gunshots, which for a time prevented fire crews from fighting the flames. There were 61 arrests in Ferguson overnight, many for burglary and trespassing, St. Louis County Police spokesman Brian Schellman said. There were 21 arrests in St. Louis, where protesters broke some store windows along South Grand Avenue, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said. Gov. Jay Nixon issued a statement saying he was calling in more National Guard troops to assist law enforcement in Ferguson, but he didn't say how many additional troops or how long they would remain. The violence erupted despite pleas for calm from President Barack Obama and the family of the victim Michael Brown after prosecutors announced the officer faces no state criminal charges. About 10 St. Louis-bound flights were diverted or canceled Monday night because of concern about gunfire being aimed into the sky, a Lambert-St. Louis International Airport spokesman said, but the restrictions expired at 3:30 a.m. The Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation into possible civil rights violations that could result in federal charges, but investigators would need to satisfy a rigorous standard of proof in order to mount a prosecution. The department also has launched a broad probe into the Ferguson Police Department, looking for patterns of discrimination.
^ Whether you agree with the judgment or not the one thing almost everyone can agree on is that those that looted and burnt things last night are criminals. People who disagree with the law or how things are done in this country have a right to show that disgust peacefully. The majority of people who feel wronged instead resort to violence and that just shows their ignorance. They loose any credibility they once had when they start destroying things and hurting/killing people. In cases like this the police, National Guard and if needed the military are right to come in and stop them through whatever means. I got the above picture from Facebook and it sums up how stupid the looters are. It would be something different if people are non-violently, peacefully protesting and then the authorities came in with guns blazing. That wasn't the case here. People, in general, do  not think before they act and are prone to violence to get what they want. It takes a better person to not use violence to show their disgust. ^

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Autism Solidarity

From USA Today:
"Pope Francis offers solidarity to people with autism"

Francis tenderly embraced children with autism spectrum disorders, some of whom avoided meeting his gaze, during an audience Saturday aimed at offering solidarity to people living with the condition.
The pope urged governments and institutions to respond to the needs of people with autism to help break "the isolation and, in many cases also the stigma" associated with the disorders, which are characterized by varying levels of social impairment and communication difficulties. "It is necessary the commitment of everyone, in order to promote encounters and solidarity, in a concrete action of support and renewed promotion of hope," the pontiff said. After offering a prayer, Francis greeting the young children and teens with autism and their families, kissing the children and cupping their faces in his hands as he circulated the auditorium at the Vatican. Some appeared to avoid the pope's eyes, while one teen whom the pope had greeted followed the pontiff and gave him another hug from behind. Families of children affected with autism were touched by the pope's words. "It was an explosion of emotions," said Maria Cristina Fiordi, a mother of a child with autism. "For us, we are parents of a child affected with autism, this meeting was very important. It was as an outstretched hand through a problem that is very often not considered in the right way." Franco Di Vincenzo, another parent of a child with autism, said he took strength from the pope's call not to hide, "that we should live with this problem in serenity." The audience was attended by some 7,000 people, including health care workers who had international conference on autism hosted by the Vatican's health care office this week. While autism is increasingly being diagnosed in places like the United States, where about 1 in 68 children are said to be on the spectrum, it is still largely unknown and undiagnosed elsewhere, including in the Vatican's own backyard of Italy, according to Dr. Stefano Vicari, head of pediatric neuropsychiatry at the Vatican-owned Bambin Gesu hospital in Rome.

^ It's always a good thing when an official (whether governmental or religious) brings awareness to any disability group. People need to know that while the disabled may need to do things a little differently they are just like everyone else. ^

Putin Life

From USA Today:
"Putin says he won't be Russia's president for life"

Vladimir Putin has said he won't remain Russia's president for life and will step down in line with the constitution no later than 2024, according to an interview with a Russian news agency released Sunday. Staying beyond that would be "detrimental for the country and I don't need this," he told the Tass news agency. Putin, 62, has effectively led Russia since he was first elected in 2000. He stepped aside after two four-year terms to abide with constitutional term limits, but retained power as prime minister and was elected in 2012 to a six-year term. Putin said his decision on whether to run for a fourth term in 2018 will depend on the situation in the country and his "own mood." Throughout the interview, Putin described efforts at home and abroad they he said were trying to undermine his rule.
He said the Western sanctions against Russian individuals and businesses over Ukraine were an attempt to punish his friends and were "driven by a desire to cause a split in the elite and then, perhaps, in society." But to the West's chagrin, Putin said, Russian society remained consolidated behind him.  He described Russian laws that restrict foreign funding of non-governmental organizations and foreign ownership of media organizations as necessary to prevent outside interests from influencing Russian politics. Putin acknowledged that not all Russians support him, which he said was fine as long as their criticism was constructive and they didn't violate the law. But he said his government would crush anyone who tried to weaken the state, describing them as "bacteria."
"They sit inside you, these bacilli, these bacteria, they are there all of the time," Putin said. "But when an organism is strong, you can always keep back the flu because of your immune system."

^ I think it's funny how he "won't be president for life" only for the next 10 years (which would mean he would have been president of Russia for 24 years.) How much more life do you need? ^

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Wheeling Venice

From the BBC:
"Venice considers ban on 'noisy' wheeled suitcases"

The city of Venice is considering a ban on noisy wheeled suitcases amid concerns they are keeping locals awake at night. Officials want visitors to ditch the bags or switch to "noiseless" alternatives with wheels that are filled with air or liquid. It is hoped the move will also protect the city's ancient streets. Venice is one of Italy's major visitor attractions, with 27 million people flocking there each year. A statement on the Venetian council's website said the plan was drawn up to appease the city's residents. "The rule is designed to respond to the numerous citizens who have in recent years complained to the local council about the serious irritation caused by stuff being moved about at times of the day and night," it said. But one hotel manager told the BBC he thought the ban was not workable. He said that if the pavements were too noisy, maybe the city should switch the pavements instead of the suitcases. If introduced, anyone flouting the proposed rule would be liable to a fine of up to 500 euros (£396), according to AFP news agency.

^ The people and government of Venice should realize that the only thing bringing them money is tourism and by passing a law that openly "attacks' tourists they risk loosing that money. I have been to Venice and don't understand why people flock to the city or think it's so great. The water is dirty, it's too crowded and the only thing to see is Saint Mark's Square. ^

Overhaul Obama

From the BBC:
"Barack Obama enforces US immigration overhaul"

Millions of immigrants living illegally in the US will be allowed to apply for work permits under a major shake-up unveiled by President Barack Obama. They include immigrants who have been in the US for five years and have children staying legally in the US.  About four million people are expected to benefit from a reform package forced through using executive orders, which allow Mr Obama to bypass Congress. Republicans have accused the president of an "illegal power-grab".
There are estimated to be 11 million illegal immigrants in the US.

^ It's clear Obama doesn't have a clue what he is doing (on anything) and just wants his name in the news. This isn't immigration overhaul it's illegal immigration overhaul. I support making it easier for foreigners who have never committed a crime (like illegally entering and living in the US) to come to the US. Instead Obama wants to aid those that are criminals (illegal = crime.) Why doesn't he focus on more important issues like: creating more jobs for Americans (instead of giving work permits to illegals to take the few jobs Americans have) or create a solid strategy to fight ISIS or do  something other than talking about Russian fighting in the Ukraine or do something that isn't self-serving but rather helps the ordinary American. Is it 2016 yet? ^

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Kyiv's Santa

From the MT:
"Kiev Brings Back Orthodox Santa Claus Instead of Soviet-Era Father Frost"

New Year celebrations in Ukraine's capital Kiev this year will be spearheaded by Saint Mykolay — the country's Orthodox analogue of Santa Claus — instead of his secular Soviet-era counterpart Father Frost, according to an outline of the festivities published by the city administration. The holiday saint will be coming to the capital on Dec. 19, when his official "residence" will open to the public in Kiev's renowned St. Sophia Cathedral, the holiday program published on the administration's website this week said. Like in Russia, the Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated in accordance with the old Julian calendar and starts on Jan. 6, but for many of the country's residents the highlight of the holiday season is New Year's Eve. Ukrainian singer Oleh Skrypka, leader of the group Vopli Vidoplyasova, complained to the UNIAN news agency earlier this month that "New Year previously comprised an eclectic [mix] of the American and Soviet New Year." "It's some sort of competition for children between Santa Claus and Father Frost," he was quoted as saying, adding that he would "very much like to remember Saint Mykolay." The statement by the Kiev administration did not specify whether its decision to put Saint Mykolay in charge of the holidays was motivated by a wish to break away from Russian or Soviet practices. The Soviet regime, which frowned upon any demonstrations of religious faith, abolished all tsarist-era church holidays in the country after the Bolshevik Revolution. It then promoted New Year's Eve as a major holiday to allow the population accustomed to large-scale festivities at the turn of the year to keep their celebration. The Soviet New Year also took on some of the traditional Christmas attributes, with families decorating "New Year trees," and children receiving gifts from Father Frost, or Ded Moroz — who, like Santa Claus, is generally represented as a white-bearded man dressed in a red coat with white cuffs.

^ I think this is a great idea. It is an alternative to the old, Soviet version and is a figure used throughout Ukrainian history (rather than just simply made up by the Communists.) Of course I believe that those people who celebrate Catholic Christmas (I've never heard a Ukrainian or a Russian refer to it as Protestant Christmas) on December 25th or Orthodox Christmas on January 7th or Chanukah or nothing should have the freedom to do that, but it's nice to see a local custom and tradition embraced. ^

Snow Feet

From the BBC:
"'Historic' US storm returns to snow-covered north-east"

 A fierce storm is bringing more snow to parts of the US north-east, with officials warning residents to be prepared for 3ft (1m) of new snow. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called it a "historic event", while a local official dubbed the storm "gigantic". Some places, including the city of Buffalo, are already underneath 5ft of snow, and eight people have died in New York state. Weather-related deaths were also reported in New Hampshire and Michigan.  Freezing temperatures have continued in many parts of the US, with heavy disruption to travel. The new storm blast spread across New York early on Thursday, bringing thunder, lightning and the spectre of several more feet of snow. "It's a force of nature, a massive force of nature,'' Deputy Erie County Commissioner Richard Tobe told reporters. "We're prepared, but the storm is gigantic and persistent.

^ I've seen the pictures of the feet of snow that the Buffalo area has received in a few days. All I can say is I'm glad I don't live in the Snow Belt. Living on a mountain gets me a good amount of snow as it is. ^

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

50 And Freezing

From the DW:
"Temperatures plummet to freezing across all 50 US states"

In an unseasonal cold blast, all 50 US states have been hit by freezing temperatures. Snowstorms, which have left four dead in the state of New York, have been described as "the worst in memory."  Americans across all 50 US states are still feeling the cold snap after temperatures plummeted to at least zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday, leaving people trapped in their homes and vehicles. Such temperatures are not usually expected until late December and early January.
The unseasonal weather has spread across the whole of North America, while heavy snow prompted a state of emergency in western New York where four people died as a result of a huge storms - one in a car accident and three from heart attacks whilst shoveling snow. Troops from the National Guard were deployed to help residents cope with the extreme Arctic-born weather, which swept across the Rocky Mountains in northwestern America last week. Driving bans were also implemented in some areas. The snowstorms have also brought the unusual phenomenon of "thunder snow" or a lake-effect storm, which is the result of cold air passing over relatively warm water, such as that in Lake Erie in northwestern America. "Some parts of our country are going to receive a years worth of snowfall in three days," said Erie county executive Mark Poloncarz. In and around the city of Buffalo in upstate New York, a huge lake-effect snowstorm left behind between 1.2 - 1.5 meters (4-5 feet) of snow in less than 24 hours. Snow blown by strong winds also left some motorists stranded in a 6.4-kilometer (4-mile) tailback on a section of the interstate highway near Buffalo for almost 24 hours. Efforts to free vehicles were delayed further after two tractor trailers jack-knifed as they were being moved.
Even the state of Hawaii, known for its warm tropical climate in the North Pacific Ocean, was also bitten by chilling temperatures, the National Weather Service said. Tuesday morning was reported as the coldest across the country in November since 1976.

^ This doesn't sound like it's going to be a good winter. We have received some snow already, but nothing like western NY. We've had temperatures of 5 F (not including the wind chill) and strong winds. We've also had freezing rain and ice (which made it had to drive down my mountain to check my mailbox.) I would rather get a foot of snow than a trace of ice. ^

No Eastern Pay

From Yahoo:
"Teachers, doctors struggle on without pay in eastern Ukraine"

With Kiev cutting off their salaries and pro-Moscow rebels struggling to set up their statelets, teachers and doctors in eastern Ukraine are left wondering where their next pay cheque will come from. For English teacher Alla Rusinkevich, stopping work is simply not an option. "We are waiting for something but we don't know what. If we don't get any support, maybe we will die. Maybe someone else will pay," she says, sitting on a school chair in an empty classroom at School Number Nine in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk. After 30 years in the job, she cannot consider leaving. "Almost everybody is still here," she says, her tired face breaking into a warm smile. A colleague sitting with her, Yury Kholyavkin, has also had to dig into his savings to get by. He claims he has a plan if things get really bad: "I will join the rebels, with camouflage and a Kalashnikov." The teachers say that Ukraine's cash-strapped government had not paid them for weeks even before announcing on Saturday that it was cutting off state services like schools and hospitals in the rebel-held east.  The separatists of the self-proclaimed separatist People's Republic of Donetsk gave Kholyavkin a handout of 3,000 hryvnias (157 euros, $195), slightly less than his regular monthly salary, last month. But they do not have the resources to cover regular pay for teachers and doctors which, until now, was Kiev's responsibility. "We're in the process of discussing all that. It's a difficult question," says Yanika Studenikina, a spokeswoman for the People's Republic of Donetsk's recently-established finance ministry. Viktor Kuchkovoy, the rebels' health minister in Donetsk, concedes that the "fledgling state" would have "difficulties paying doctors and medical staff" for the moment due to the lack of an administrative framework.  Most hospital workers in Donetsk have not been paid for months. Near the city centre, doctors at Rudnychna hospital have been waiting for their salaries since July.  The 15 emergency ward doctors have built up a pot of cash which any of them can dip into in case of need, to be paid back when peace comes. "The staff work as a matter of honour," said the head of the unit, Dr Andrei Kolesnikov, a bald, affable man in his 40s. "You see those nurses?" he asks, pointing at two young women who look away shyly. "They don't have any money so they have to walk to work." He says the hospital will be able to keep working for a month with the medicines currently available. He accepts he could work elsewhere -- "in France or in Yemen". But he adds: "The captain is always the last to leave the ship." His boss, who did not want to give his name, says that around 15 doctors have left the hospital because of the war "to rejoin Ukraine" but he says he is too old for that. Most residents of the rebel-held east do not see the area as part of Ukraine.
"If you are a doctor, you should stay here," he adds, fixing his eyes on a statue in his office of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. "But frankly, I have no idea who is going to pay."

^ I can completely understand why Kyiv is no longer going to support the teachers and doctors. The pro-Russian terrorists that currently "run' that part of eastern Ukraine are fighting Kyiv. Russia is giving the terrorists weapons and men so why don't they pay their salaries? I guess it's hard to do that when the threat of economic collapse is threatening your own people. I only feel sorry for the doctors and nurses (not the teachers.) A doctor's job is to treat anyone and everyone whether they are a terrorist or a civilian. That's not so for a teacher (especially ones that flip to any side at a whim.) ^

Scared Madrid

From the BBC:
"Prosecutors in Spain to charge Catalonia leader Mas"

Spanish prosecutors are to file criminal charges against Catalan President Artur Mas in response to a 9 November unofficial independence vote. The non-binding vote went ahead despite fierce opposition by the Spanish government and a ruling by Spain's constitutional court. Catalan officials say more than 80% of those who voted backed independence. Charges will also be laid against Mr Mas's deputy, Joana Ortega, and Catalan Education Minister Irene Rigau. The three politicians face accusations ranging from disobedience and perverting the course of justice to misuse of public funds.
When the Spanish government appealed against the autonomous north-eastern region's plans for a referendum, Spain's constitutional court suspended the vote and ordered a ban on campaigning.  The Catalan government reacted by making the vote unofficial and non-binding, and gave the task of organising the ballot to thousands of volunteers. It went ahead weeks after Scottish voters had rejected independence in an official referendum, by a margin of 55% to 45%. Some 2.3 million people took part in the ballot, out of an electorate of 5.4 million, and Catalan officials said more than 80% had voted to back independence. Afterwards, Mr Mas said he would push for an official referendum. The Spanish government dismissed the exercise as a "useless sham" and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stressed that most voters had not taken part, meaning it was a "deep failure". For four hours on Wednesday, Spain's Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce consulted a board of 24 senior prosecutors on whether to proceed with the criminal case.  All but two of the prosecutors backed the case, which will be put before the High Court of Justice in Catalonia

^ This just shows how scared the Spanish Government in Madrid really is of Catalonia. They (Madrid) should follow what Canada (with regards to Quebec) and the UK (with regards to Scotland) did and officially allow Catalonia to vote whether they want independence or not. If the "No" vote wins then Madrid will have a solid stance, but until then Catalonia holds all the cards. ^

Forced Crimea

From BusinessWeek:
"Russia Delivers a New Shock to Crimean Business: Forced Nationalization"

Business in Crimea has taken a beating since the peninsula’s annexation by Russia. Crimea’s tourism industry collapsed, and companies were cut off from vital suppliers and customers in Ukraine. Now comes the latest blow: nationalization. From bakeries to shipyards, Crimea’s Kremlin-backed government is moving aggressively to take over businesses that it deems “inefficient,” strategically important, or friendly to the government in Kiev. Krymkhleb, the peninsula’s biggest bread and confectionery maker, was nationalized on Nov. 12 by government authorities who accused its owners of laundering money to finance military operations against pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. A company that supplies flour to Krymkhleb also was taken over. Also on Nov. 12, authorities seized a resort complex owned by the holding company of Serhiy Taruta, a Ukrainian oligarch who replaced the former pro-Russian governor of Ukraine’s Donetsk region for several months earlier this year. Crimean authorities said the resort was seized because its management had illegally blocked public access to nearby park lands. Another recent target was Zaliv, Crimea’s largest civilian shipbuilder. In late August, men describing themselves as Crimean “self-defense” forces stormed the company’s headquarters in the port of Kerch and demanded that management hand over control to a Moscow-based company. “Currently, representatives of the legitimate government of [Zaliv] are not allowed to perform their functions,” the company said in a statement on its website, adding that its activities have been “completely blocked.” No official reason was given for the seizure, but Russian authorities have said they want to overhaul Crimea’s shipbuilding industry. “All enterprises on the peninsula that operate inefficiently, are on the verge of bankruptcy, or have been abandoned by their owners, will be nationalized.” Sergei Tsekov, a senator who represents Crimea in the Russian parliament in Moscow, told the Russian-language news service 15 Minutes on Nov. 13. Crimea also has threatened to seize companies that it claims are in debt to Russian banks. One such case involves Crimean solar-power generating stations developed and operated by Activ Solar, an Austrian company. Sergey Aksyonov, Crimea’s recently elected prime minister, contends that Activ Solar owes $300 million to Russian banks. The company disputes that, saying it has no loan exposure to Russian institutions. Russia moved swiftly after annexation to nationalize some Ukrainian state-owned enterprises, ranging from pipeline companies to health spas. It also took aim at  oligarchs such as Igor Kolomoyskiy, vocally pro-Kiev governor of Ukraine’s Dniepropetrovsk region. Kolomoyskiy’s Privat Bank closed its Crimean branches after the annexation, leaving depositors to seek compensation from Moscow. Besides taking depositors’ money, Crimean prime minister Kolomoyskiy has financed military operations against separatists in eastern Ukraine, Aksyonov told Crimea’s parliament in September, ITAR-Tass reported. “It is our moral right and our moral duty to carry out this nationalization,” he said. Recent laws enacted by the parliament have expanded the government’s right to foreclose” on private property, and, according to one of the new laws, to seize assets considered to have “particular social, cultural, or historical value.” In some cases, Crimean authorities have said they were seizing businesses at the behest of employees who were being cheated or mistreated by management. “Employees established control of the enterprise on their own,” Aksyonov said after the takeover of Krymkhleb. “We just helped them a little.” Such measures are turning Crimea into a “neo-Bolshevik criminal dictatorship,” Russian opposition party Yabloko said in a statement this week on its website. “The action to legitimize robbery must be cancelled, stolen property returned to owners, losses reimbursed.”

^ How else is Russia supposed to force itself onto the Crimea unless it follows old Soviet methods and nationalizes whatever it wants to? I feel sorry for the Crimeans that didn't vote for being annexed (despite Russian guns pointed at them) everyone else that did deserves what they are getting. I guess the grass isn't always greener someplace else. ^

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Visiting Pope

From the BBC:
"Pope Francis unveils plans to visit US in September 2015"

The Pope has announced plans to visit the US next September, his first trip there since his election last year. Pope Francis said he would attend an international Catholic conference on marriage in Philadelphia.  He is also expected to address the UN General Assembly in New York and meet President Barack Obama in Washington. The announcement, at an interreligious conference on family values in the Vatican, was eagerly awaited after months of speculation. Speaking at the Vatican on Monday, the pontiff said he would travel to Philadelphia for the "World Meeting of Families", a gathering sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church which takes place every three years.
The website of the conference said in a statement that Pope Francis would most likely travel there from 25 to 27 September, although dates are yet to be finalised. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who had personally invited the Pope, said he was "overjoyed" by the announcement, adding: "A hallmark of his papacy has been a keen focus on the many challenges that families face today globally.  "His charisma, presence and voice will electrify the gathering." Pope Francis will become the fourth pope to visit the US, in a visit that Catholic officials say could draw up to a million people.
According to AP news agency, he had received invitations from President Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Congress, as well as letters from more than 10,000 school children in Philadelphia, encouraging him to make the trip.

^ Pope Francis is carrying on Pope John Paul 2nd's mission of bringing the Catholic Church into the 21st Century. I am glad that he is coming to the US. I hope he continues to change how things have been done over the centuries and bring more people back to the Church. ^

Hurt Kremlin

From MT:
"10 Kremlin Moves That Hurt Russia's Economy"

As the Russian economy ambles toward recession, the government grapples with how to explain the downturn — no easy feat after 15 years of slowly mounting prosperity and President Vladimir Putin's campaign promises of lavish social spending. So far, the authorities have been inclined to blame external factors, such as sanctions imposed by the West over accusations of Russian meddling in Ukraine and the sliding price of oil, which at least some Kremlin backers blame on a covert deal between Washington and the Gulf monarchies. The approach is clearly working, with Putin's approval ratings resting comfortably above 80 percent, and widespread public adoration fueled by a patriotic euphoria over said meddling in Ukraine. But as the economy nosedives, the public mood threatens to plunge right alongside it — and some of the Kremlin's more questionable economic moves may come back to haunt the people who made them happen.  The Moscow Times has compiled a list of 10 economic moves currently hitting the Russian business community and/or the general populace that the government has had a hand in. The impact of most items on the list — up to and including the hypothetical risk of "smoker riots" — is expected to be felt in 2015, just around the corner.

1. Falling Ruble

The ruble has lost 38 percent of its value versus the U.S. dollar since the start of the year, and earlier this month the Central Bank stopped supporting the exchange rate, apparently due to shrinking currency reserves. The devaluation is expected to hit all industries with foreign connections in the coming year, including retail, tourism and dining. About 25 percent of the restaurants in Moscow are expected to shut down next year, consumer confidence is sliding, and clothes shopping and travel abroad are becoming less accessible to middle-class Russians.

2. Borrowing Restrictions

The EU and U.S. have limited access to international capital for Russia's state-owned banks and corporations, including VTB, Sberbank and Rosneft, because of Russia's support for separatists in Ukraine. Other Russian banks and companies are also reportedly struggling to borrow internationally, with foreign lenders increasingly distrustful of Russian businesses in light of a geopolitical standoff. The end result is obstructed access to capital and rising borrowing costs for Russian companies, which already have a corporate debt of $600 billion as of October, according to Central Bank data.

3. Food Sanctions

One of the most questioned countermoves against the Western sanctions was an embargo on food exports from the U.S. and most European countries. The government promised that the embargo would boost domestic productivity, and that Asian and South American exports would make up for the rest. But dairy and meat imports have shrunk by a third, according to customs data, and food inflation this year has neared double digits, the State Statistics Service said this month.

4. Bashneft

In what has arguably been the highest-profile corporate scandal since the fall of oil giant Yukos in the 2000s, the government earlier this year voided the 2003 privatization deal for oil company Bashneft, nationalizing the controlling stake and placing its owner Vladimir Yevtushenkov under house arrest.
The selective inspection of a single privatization deal among dozens prompted speculations about its motives — with many commentators referring to it as a takeover attempt by state-run Rosneft. The company denied it, but the move — which highlighted a lack of property-right guarantees in Russia — did nothing to boost investor confidence, which had already taken a hit from political risks in the country.

5. New Business Duty

As falling oil prices ($79.2 per barrel of Brent as of Tuesday) drain the state coffers, the government is struggling for revenue and apparently expects small businesses to foot the bill. Though plans for a sales tax have been shelved, a government-penned bill under review in the State Duma proposes a new duty for small businesses of all stripes, from hairdressers to grocery stores, transportation firms and even public pay-per-use toilets.The quarterly municipal duty is to vary from 6,000 to 600,000 rubles ($130 to $13,000). Analysts said it would cripple Russia's already heavily taxed small and mid-sized businesses, which — according to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev — account for a mere 20 percent of Russia's GDP, compared with 50-60 percent in developed countries.

6. Gas Prices

As oil prices plummet, gasoline prices in Russia continue to soar (9 percent since the start of the year, to about 33 rubles, or $0.70, per liter). A hike to 50 rubles ($1.06) per liter is expected in 2015 because of new duties. Given that Russia is a leading oil producer, the government will have a hard time selling the hike to millions of motorists nationwide — and that is without mentioning the negative impact of increased transportation costs on the economy.

7. Property Tax

Russian real estate tax is currently a blip on the radar of public spending, but new rules will cause it to surge 10 to 20 times by 2016, to between 5,000 and 26,000 rubles ($107 to $550) a year for typical Moscow apartments, according estimates by news site
The tax has been in talks for years, continually mothballed over fear of public discontent, especially among apartment owners in the lower income brackets. Given the slowing economy and rising prices, discontent is exactly what can be expected to happen when hefty new bills hit mailboxes everywhere.

8. Pension Freeze

The government has approved a freeze of a combined 540 billion rubles ($11.5 billion) of non-governmental pension fund savings for 2014 and 2015, with the money expected to be spent on more immediate state projects. Simultaneously, it expects to spend the last 3 trillion rubles ($64 billion) from the state's National Welfare Fund — intended as backup for the flagging, also state-run Pension Fund. The money has been earmarked for state corporations, with Rosneft and Russian Railways having already requested 1.5 trillion rubles each.Though the official line is that the savings will be returned, and emptying the National Welfare Fund will boost the economy, many observers are skeptical. The state risks running out of emergency savings, while simultaneously incurring the ire of 28 millions of Russians who keep their pension money in those plundered private funds.

9. Social Spending Cuts

State spending on health care and education will be slashed in 2015 by 21 percent and 6 percent year-on-year, respectively, as outlined in the draft state budget. In Moscow, a handful of public hospitals are slated to be shut down — and replaced by malls and high-end real estate — already triggering street protests by medics.

10. Tourism Slump

The Russian tourism industry is in its death throes, with dozens of travel agencies having declared bankruptcy this year, in many cases leaving hundreds of tourists stranded at a time. A story by the Kommersant newspaper in October linked the industry's turmoil to decreased revenues caused by the government prohibiting about 4 million officials, or 22 percent of all tourists, from traveling abroad over fears that they risked being seized by Western spy agencies. And that was before the ruble's devaluation and its devastating effect on tourism (see above).

Honorary Mention: Tobacco Tax Hike

The State Duma last week approved a new increase in tobacco excise tax, the second in two years. Cigarette brands used by 80 percent of smokers will become about 10 rubles ($0.20) more expensive per pack, Kommersant said. While modest, the hike may prove to be the final straw as far as public patience is concerned. In a country where the average salary is 22,000 rubles ($460) and half of the male population is smoking, "smoker riots" are undesirable but possible.

^  These explain how bad things in Russia are and how bad they will get - and why. ^

'80s Flying

From Yahoo:
"Remember the '80s of Flying"

At some point, you’ve been on a flight sitting next to some guy born before the NFL merger who’s rambling on about “the golden age of flying,” and how people used to wear tuxedos and evening gowns and eat filet and lobster on flights to Buffalo. And then about the time you stopped listening to him and told the flight attendant, “No thanks, you would not like the whole can of Sam’s Choice Cola,” you realized that you could probably go on a similar rant, if only some teenager would steal the old man’s seat when he went to the bathroom. And, sure, that teenager probably wouldn’t take off his Beats, but if he did… here are 15 things you could tell him about air travel in what you lovingly refer to as the “good old days.”

You could smoke
Yes, there was a “non-smoking section”, but whoever designed it forgot the laws of physics. Shockingly, smoke moved about the cabin as if the captain just turned off the fasten seatbelt light, and you typically exited a two-hour flight smelling like you’d spent the night in a dive bar.

 There were meals
They weren’t good meals, mind you, but it was food. You could typically expect a soggy croissant with rubbery turkey and some wilted vegetables, or roughly what they’ve been serving at Subway since the advent of the $5 foot long. But at least you didn’t have to sit next to the guy who brought Panda Express’ extra-spicy shrimp curry on board, nor did you have to stock up on Combos at the newsstand for a cross-country flight.

Music was only available through in-flight radio or your Walkman
Which meant the decision about which Motley Crue tape to bring was especially crucial. Or, accidentally grab your “Long Lonely Summer” mix from three years ago, and you could’ve been stuck listening to the same 14 Adult Contemporary songs on a fake “radio station” hosted by John Tesh.

There was no Internet to buy tickets
If you wanted to book a flight, you either had to call the airline, go to their office, or call a travel agent. If you tried to comparison shop while at said office, you were basically the equivalent of the guy who gets to the front of the line at Taco Bell and asks questions about every ingredient in a chalupa.

You showed up 20 minutes before your flight, and got on
Airport security in the ’80s was like stadium security today, but faster! And it smelled a lot better too, since everyone could leave their shoes on.

You had to pre-arrange your meeting time and place
Because there were no cell phones. And if you weren’t EXACTLY sure where “outside baggage claim 4, by the Marlboro ad” was, you got the momentary celebrity of getting paged over the airport loudspeaker. Which is why usually…

People met you at the gate
And though occasionally awesome, it was usually cripplingly embarrassing. Especially when Mom made a giant “Welcome Home” sign on your first trip back from college and showed up with the high school girlfriend you forgot you still had.

Unlimited checked bags, FO’ FREE
Airplanes actually had overhead space and legroom, because people weren’t trying to pack their entire spring semester’s wardrobe into a carry-on. Many airlines didn’t limit the number of bags you could take, and even the ones that did typically allowed at least two

No automated check-in
It’s amazing how now we push seven buttons, and we’re checked into our flight; we even get a boarding pass and baggage tag. In the ’80s, it took the airline desk agent 14,000 VERY loud key strokes on an IBM the size of an anvil just to find your reservation.

You needed ACTUAL tickets to board your flight
And the gut-punch you got when you arrived at the airport and realized you’d left them at home was worse than the feeling of forgetting to bring cash to a strip club.

You could bring whatever you wanted on planes
A few bottles of wine from France? Sure. A gallon of vodka from Russia? Absolutely! Some Ginsu knives you received for looking at a beach timeshare? No problem! Did this lead to the occasional booze-fueled knife fight? Probably. But there was no Twitter back then, so airlines were actually able to keep it quiet.

You got one movie. If you were lucky.
And it cost $7 to rent headphones to hear it. Typically, it was something starring Cory Feldman/Haim/both that showed on one screen and was “Edited for Airline Use,” which led to an entire generation of children thinking the most famous line from Die Hard was “Yippee ki-yay, motorfinger”.

Airports had lockers
Even though your carry-on wasn’t that heavy, it was still nice to put it away if you decided to explore a city during your layover. And since getting back through security wasn’t a bigger procedure than making polenta, coming and going to the terminal didn’t take much time.

Airport food sucked
You ever been to one of those crappy regional airports where your only choices for pre-flight food are roller hot dogs and a sad, lonely SuperPretzel? That was EVERY AIRPORT IN AMERICA, and the first time you saw a Little Caesars during a layover in Detroit it blew your freaking mind.

Flights cost more. A LOT more
According to the Wall Street Journal, the average round-trip domestic ticket in 1980 cost $592.55. Even with bag fees, water fees, oxygen fees and whatever other fee Spirit charges, the average cost in 2010 was $337.97. The moral of that story: you get what you pay for.

^ Even though I was young in the 1980s I still remember flying and my family and I did it many times as we lived in West Germany and flew back to the States often. Some things were better in the 1980s (like airport lockers (although many countries still have them), no liquids ban, anyone could go to the gate. Some things have improved like: the food (although you usually have to pay for it), having personal entertainment at your seat. ^