Friday, January 30, 2015

Ukrainian Saves Russian

From the MT:
"Ukrainian Officer Becomes Internet Hero After Saving Russian Soldier's Life"

The phone connection from my living room in Berlin to the battlefield in eastern Ukraine couldn't have been better. First Lieutenant Alexei Chaban of the Ukrainian 17th Tank Brigade came in loud and clear, the sound of gunfire in the distance. "There's some shelling going on," he said. "If the line cuts out, it's a mortar attack." Chaban spoke in the same matter-of-fact voice of his Facebook posts from the front. Chaban, 50, has become an Internet sensation since the weekend, when he posted an open letter to the mother of a Russian tank commander whose life he had spared during a skirmish last week. When I told him Tuesday afternoon that his letter had already been shared 17,000 times and liked by 8,000 Facebook users, Chaban was taken aback. His mobile Internet connection is excruciatingly slow, he said, so he had had no idea how popular he had become. "I guess it's a big number, but I'm no expert in these things," he said. "I wasn't trying to do anything special. I'm just an average guy." It's exactly Chaban's ordinariness that has made him a hero. A reserve tank officer from his student days at Dnipropetrovsk's mining school, the father of four voluntarily enlisted in July as the pro-Russian insurgency in the neighboring Donetsk and Luhansk regions became increasingly violent. Chaban left his 250-acre farm behind for a month of training before being sent to the shaky cease-fire line. Like thousands of other combatants, Chaban took his smartphone with him. While Ukrainian government ministers and volunteer commanders often seem to spend more time writing Facebook posts than doing their jobs, social media have also allowed rank-and-file soldiers to stay in touch with friends and families. Geo-tagged social-media posts by Russian soldiers over the summer put a lie to Kremlin denials of military involvement in Ukraine. In wars past, soldiers spent downtime writing letters home. Today they hope they get a strong enough signal to post on Facebook. Chaban is no different, and his Facebook page, written in Russian, is full of snapshots from the field and commentary on equipment. (It turns out a Belarusian night-vision scope is better than an American one.) On Tuesday, Chaban reflected on how soldiers get used to danger and described how his comrades blew up a rebel truck filled with ammunition. "This is war. After it's over, it will affect people for a long time," he wrote. A day earlier, Chaban recounted a skirmish near the village of Sanzharivka, north of the surrounded Ukrainian outpost of Debaltseve, where he found a wounded Ukrainian soldier who had been run over by an enemy tank. "I don't know how to communicate these feelings," he wrote. "I'm even afraid to communicate these feelings and what I've seen to the civilian world. The scene I encountered screamed with horror." Chaban wrote his famous letter on Saturday night. In it, he addresses the mother of a Russian officer who survived a hit to his tank, together with his gunner and driver, on Jan. 22. "When they got out of their disabled vehicle, we just had to push a button in our tank and all that would have been left of them would have been a memory of our sinful world," Chaban wrote. "We didn't kill them. We let them go." Chaban goes on to explain to the mother that Ukrainians face a host of problems — corruption, crime, poverty, unemployment — and chased former President Viktor Yanukovych from office in February to have a better life. Chaban assures her that Ukrainians aren't fascists who eat babies or rape disabled pensioners, but ordinary, peace-loving people who love their country and children. "Tell your son that making a living by depriving other people of their lives is NOT good. May he return home and find other work," Chaban wrote. "May he live peacefully and not take sins on his soul." Chaban appealed to Facebook users to pass the letter on to the mother of the officer, who had left his mobile phone, with a Russian SIM card, in his tank. Chaban posted a picture from the phone, showing a worn, middle-aged man sitting atop a tank in fatigues and a black Russian tanker helmet. Chaban also included three phone numbers and a street address, presumably of the officer's mother, that he'd found on the forgotten phone. Reporters in the central Russian city of Voronezh confirmed that the three phone numbers were local: two were out of service, and the woman who answered the third, a certain Marina, said she had seen Chaban's Facebook post but didn't recognize the man in the photo. When reporters went to the address in the post, they met a pensioner named Tatyana Golubyatnikova who denied knowing the man or having any relatives fighting in Ukraine.  When I reached Chaban, I mentioned the doubts cast on his story by the Voronezh journalists. Chaban said it was possible that the owners of the phone numbers had been warned by the Russian authorities. He said there were other numbers on the officer's phone that he hadn't posted on Facebook. I was curious why Chaban hadn't taken the Russian tank crew prisoner. He and his men were in the middle of a firefight, confined to their tank, Chaban explained. "We could have shot them or let them go. We couldn't have taken them prisoner. It wasn't realistic." Life-and-death decisions had to be made in a matter of seconds. Chaban told me he's religious, though his faith isn't the reason why he spared his enemies' lives. "I can't say that at that moment I was thinking about God," he said. "But you can't kill unarmed people." Chaban allowed that he might have reacted differently if he had lost a comrade in his five months in the war zone. "I don't regret it. Why should we have killed them? I don't think those three will fight anymore." The enemy tank, a T64-BV, wasn't badly damaged. Specialists who examined it determined from its serial number that it had been based in Crimea, which Russia annexed in March. After repairing it, Chaban and his crew made it their own. Chaban said the pictures and text messages he found on the tank commander's phone kept him up at night. Finally, he decided to work through his feelings in a letter to the unknown soldier's mother. Chaban agreed with me that modern technology, especially smartphones and social networks, have created unimaginable opportunities for soldiers to stay in touch with the outside world. He usually speaks to his wife Svetlana twice a day. "For families it's easier," he said, then paused. "Or maybe more difficult." I was sitting at my dining table in Berlin. Chaban was sitting out a bombardment somewhere north of Debaltseve. We spoke in our two separate realities, connected only in time and by a 6-hour-old Facebook friendship. "I hope they'll let me go home in March. I'm tired," Chaban said. He needs to plant his crops if he expects to make any kind of living this year.

^ Молодець! This continues to show the true spirit of the Ukrainian men and women. All they want is to live their lives in peace with no war or occupying militaries threatening them or their families. I'm sure the Russian officials got to the woman in Voronezh and made her say that there were no Russians fighting in the Ukraine  - it just sounds like something they (the Russians) have been doing this whole time. First there's no Russians in the Crimea and then there are and now they aren't in eastern Ukraine, but I'm sure sometime in the future they will admit the truth. It took about 50 years for the Soviets to admit they killed Polish soldiers at Katyn. ^

Gitmo Stays

From the BBC:
"US rejects Cuba demand to hand back Guantanamo Bay base"

The US says it will not hand back the Guantanamo Bay naval base as part of efforts to improve relations with Cuba. Cuban President Raul Castro included the demand in a speech on Wednesday, calling also for the US trade embargo to be lifted. US President Barack Obama "does believe that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed down... but not the naval base", the White House said.
The land on which the base stands was leased to the US by Cuba in 1903. The Cuban government which came to power in the revolution of 1959 has long demanded its return, saying it is a violation of international law, but the US points to a legal provision making the lease permanent unless it is terminated by mutual agreement. Last month the two countries announced a thaw in relations, agreeing to restore diplomatic ties severed in 1961. Delegations have begun negotiating the re-establishment of embassies. However in a speech on Wednesday, Mr Castro said: "The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalising bilateral relations. "But this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don't give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base." This condition was rejected by White House spokesman Josh Earnest in remarks to the media on Thursday. He agreed that President Obama was seeking to shut the prison at Guantanamo Bay, as it "only serves as a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and other extremist organisations". "But the naval base is not something that we believe should be closed," he said.

^ I knew Obama wasn't such an idiot to give in so easily to the Cuban demands and simply give Gitmo back to them. ^

Canada's Anti-Terror

"Anti-terror bill, at a glance"

Here are the highlights:

Spy games
Anybody who wished Canada would have its own form of the Central Intelligence Agency is closer to seeing that happen. Until now, Canada’s primary spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), has been allowed only to collect and analyze information about threats to Canada, and advise the government about appropriate responses. Now, CSIS will be allowed to “disrupt” those threats, which include espionage, sabotage, terrorism and what the government calls “domestic subversion.” That could include anything from disrupting websites and social media accounts to intercepting goods and weapons. In addition, the Federal Court now will be able to compel third parties to co-operate with CSIS. An example would be having a telecommunications firm provide the spy agency with information, or blocking a website. The government says it is matching these powers with new safeguards. The threshold for disruption activities is higher than intelligence gathering, with CSIS being required to have “reasonable grounds to believe” something was a threat to Canada before disrupting the threat, as opposed to needing only “reasonable grounds to suspect” to gather intelligence. As with its existing intelligence-gathering powers, CSIS would need a warrant whenever its plan to disrupt a threat would contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or Canadian law.
The spy agency will also have to keep the public safety minister informed about threat disruption activities. As well, the Security Intelligence Review Committee will examine CSIS’s performance each year in its report to Parliament.
Fighting the message
The proposed legislation includes significant sections devoted to fighting the spread of terrorist propaganda and the promotion of terrorist acts. Under current law, it is a crime to encourage others to commit a specific terrorism offence. However, it does not apply to those who promote a more general attack on Canada, for example, because no specific offence is singled out. The government is seeking to change that by creating a new offence, punishable by up to five years in prison, to simply promote terrorism, including attacks on Canadians. This would apply to those who knowingly advocate or promote terrorism. The government is comparing this to existing genocide laws. Courts will also be able to seize terrorist propaganda or remove it from the Internet. Such items would include material that promotes or encourages acts of terrorism against Canadians in general or the commission of a specific attack against Canadians. The government is comparing this to existing child pornography and hate crime provisions. As is currently the case for hate propaganda, the attorney general would have to agree to issuing such a warrant to ensure protection of freedom of speech and other matters of public interest.
Easier to make preventive arrests
The government is making it easier for police to obtain a warrant to detain someone by reducing the threshold from suspicion that a terrorism offence “will be” carried out to suspicion that a terrorism offence “may be” carried out. It will also be easier to hold suspects for up to seven days if it’s believed doing so “is likely” to prevent the carrying out of a terrorist activity, as opposed to being “necessary” to prevent a terrorist activity. Judges will also be able to require a person to surrender his or her passport, and impose extra reporting requirements or electronic monitoring. The maximum penalties for violating court-ordered conditions will increase to four years from two.
No-Fly list
The legislation would expand the no-fly list to prevent Canadians from heading overseas to join terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Introduced in 2007, the list has until now applied only to those suspected of being a threat to the airplane they were boarding. The government says it is also strengthening the way the no-fly list is managed, including establishing a process for people to get their names off the list and processes for sharing information with domestic and foreign partners.

^  It's always good to understand your country and how the different agencies/ministries work and what the new laws and rules are. This summary helps you do that. ^

Students To Students

From Russia News:
"Ukrainian Students Call On Russian Counterparts To End 'Information War'"

This is the advice handed out by Ukrainian students to their counterparts in Russia via a video clip aimed at tackling what is described as rampant Kremlin propaganda. Students from several Kyiv universities have released an emotional video urging students in Moscow not to believe what Russian state-controlled media are saying about Ukraine and Ukrainians. Russian television has accused Ukrainian soldiers of crucifying children and described pro-European protesters in Kyiv as rabid neo-Nazis. "A war is going on in our country. Your soldiers and our soldiers are dying in our country, civilians are dying," the clip says. "We call on you to lift the information curtain!" "We stand on opposite sides of the barricades, and between us lie kilometers of misunderstanding," it continues. "Between us lie tales about Nazis and Ukrainian nationalists." Kyiv student Yevheniy Melnik, the video's initiator, says Ukrainians are tired of bent on victimizing Russian-speakers in Ukraine. He says the video aims at challenging such misconceptions, which he says are further pitting Russians against Ukrainians as Kyiv battles a pro-Russian insurgency in the country's east. "These are ordinary students who are trying to somehow put an end to this information war," he tells RFE/RL. "It's precisely this information war that is fueling the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions." Melnik says the clip was produced entirely by students and is not a government project. He says it reflects the feeling of many young Ukrainians and students, whom he calls the "strength and the future" of the country. The video goes on to explain that the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv were not a U.S-funded coup, as Russian state media has claimed, but were held to denounce the "total corruption, complete rejection of European integration, media censorship, and police lawlessness" under then-President Viktor Yanukovych. It also accuses pro-Russian separatists of forcing many in Crimea "at gunpoint" to vote in favor of the Ukrainian peninsula joining Russia last year. Finally, the Ukrainian students call on Russians to stop pointing their fingers at the West and take the future into their own hands instead. "We -- or, rather, the leaders of our countries -- are the only ones to blame for our problems," it says. "Europe and America, where human life is the most important value, are simply upholding their principles and are not trying to bring anyone to their knees."

^ Hopefully Russian students will see this video from the Ukrainian students and learn the real truth. Older Russians tend to not pay attention to anything other than what the government tells them even if it is an out-right lie. ^

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Communist Estonia

From the MT:
"Estonia to Erect Monument to Victims of Communism"

A monument to Estonian victims of communism will be erected in Tallinn following a government decision to move forward with long-mulled plans, news agency Estonian Public Broadcasting reported Thursday. A design for the monument, which will be erected in Tallinn's Maarjamae Memorial Complex, was selected at the culmination of a 2011 contest. The monument is expected to open by 2018, in time for the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Republic of Estonia. The state property department has been tasked with conducting a tender to select an architect for the project, and also to create a working group comprised of government representatives, organizations involved in memorializing victims of repression, sculptors and architects, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.  A tender will be held to select an architect to design the area surrounding the monument.  Estonia's World War II memorials have previously proven controversial in Estonian-Russian relations. In 2007, a decision by Estonian authorities to relocate a famous Red Army monument sparked two nights of riots in Tallinn. Many Russians viewed the relocation of the Bronze Soldier monument as an insult to Soviet troops, whom they saw as liberators of the Estonian people. Some Estonians, on the other hand, saw Soviet troops as occupiers and supported the monument's move. The resulting dispute culminated in cyber-attacks on Estonian organizations and a siege of the Estonian Embassy in Moscow. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has been a vocal critic of the Kremlin throughout his career, at one point saying Germany had done a better job of taking responsibility for Nazi atrocities than Moscow had for Soviet ones.  Russia has reacted strongly in the past to efforts by former Soviet states to equate Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In 2010, the State Duma said any attempts to equate the two were "blasphemous towards all of the anti-fascist movement veterans, Holocaust victims, concentration camp prisoners and tens of millions of people … who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the fight against the Nazis' anti-human racial theory," RT reported at the time.

^ It is important for every country that suffered under Communism to remember the victims while at the same time punish the Communist officials. Communism and Nazism had one common ideology:  destroy anyone opposed to them. Every country that was occupied has memorials (museums, camps, etc) to the victims and survivors of the Nazis yet very few have the same memorials to the victims and survivors of the Communists (despite the fact that the Nazis were in power for 12 years and the Communists for 70+ in some places.) It  has been over 20 years since the Communist governments collapsed in Europe and so there are new adults that have never lived under a Communist dictatorship with all its issues, shortages, repressions and deportations and so it's important to teach the new generations what it was like for their parents and grandparents. ^

Portuguese Expelled

From the BBC:
"Portugal to naturalise descendants of Jews expelled centuries ago"

The Portuguese Cabinet has approved rules under which descendants of Jews expelled from Portugal more than 500 years ago can claim citizenship. Many Sephardic Jews were killed, forced to convert to Christianity or leave at the end of the 15th Century. Parliament paved the way for a change in citizenship laws two years ago, but the move needed Cabinet approval. From now on, descendants of Sephardic Jews who can prove a strong link to Portugal can apply for a passport. Proof can be brought, the government says, through a combination of surname, language spoken in the family or evidence of direct descent. Thousands of Sephardic Jews were forced off the Iberian peninsula, first from Spain and then from Portugal. Some of those who fled to other parts of Europe or to America continued to speak a form of Portuguese in their new communities. The Portuguese government acknowledges that Jews lived in the region long before the Portuguese kingdom was founded in the 12th Century. "There is no possibility to amend what was done," says Portuguese Justice Minister Paula Teixera da Cruz, adding that the law change was "an attribution of a right". Portugal's Jewish community which once numbered in the tens of thousands has shrunk to just 1,000 - most of them Ashkenazim with roots in Eastern Europe. Neighbouring Spain is still debating a similar law to address its treatment of Jews in the past.

^ The Justice Minister is right in saying that they can't change what the country did in the past, but they can change their future. Portugal and Spain should let the descendants of the expelled Jews get citizenship. ^

Putin's Kids

From the G & M:
"Russian blogger claims to have revealed secret identity of Putin’s daughter"

One of Vladimir Putin’s main opponents may have broken a taboo by publishing what he says is the pseudonym used by one the Russian President’s daughters to stay out of the spotlight. Putin has made his and his family’s private life little less than a state secret, keeping his rarely-photographed daughters Yekaterina, 28, and Maria, 29, out of sight and managing his divorce with the minimum fuss.  But opposition blogger Alexei Navalny on Thursday published on his Facebook page an online report which identified a certain Katerina Vladimirovna Tikhonova as the head of an organization working with Moscow State University. Navalny wrote on his Facebook page: “RBC (they are cool!) yesterday found Putin’s daughter in the Scientific Council of Moscow State University.” A source close to Moscow State University confirmed Tikhonova was Putin’s daughter, telling Reuters on condition of anonymity: “Yes, it is her.” Tikhonova could not be reached for comment. The Kremlin often brushes aside questions about Putin’s private life, defending his right it privacy. Asked about the woman’s identity, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “I don’t know who she is.” Sergey Aleksashenko, a former official at the central bank who is now an opposition figure, questioned in a blog whether it was correct for Tikhonova to hold such a role in a business project if she is indeed Putin’s daughter. “If this is true, it means that Vladimir Putin has crossed one of those ‘red lines’ he once drew for himself,” he wrote. Putin is so secretive about his family that most Russians have no idea what his daughters look like. It is also not public knowledge where his ex-wife Lyudmila is living since their divorce was finalized last year. Putin did, however, say in November that his daughters both live in Russia and he sees them once or twice a month. Media reports last year said Maria had lived in the Netherlands until Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing 298 people, many of them Dutch nationals. She fled after the local mayor called for her deportation, though he later retracted his comments. Putin and Lyudmila announced their breakup to a television interviewer in June, 2013, and they formally divorced in April last year after more than 30 years of marriage. He told journalists at the time to keep their “snotty noses” out of his private affairs and the newspaper, Moskovsky Korrespondent, folded shortly afterward.
^ If this woman, Katerina Vladimirovna Tikhonova, is Putin's daughter they didn't do a good job in changing her name to disguise her. Katerina is so close to her real name of Yekaterina and Vladmirovna (which means daughter of Vladimir) just lets everyone know her father's name is Vladimir (Putin's first name is Vladimir.) Someone will probably end up in Siberia if this is true. ^

Ukraine $2 Billion

From MT:
"U.S. Gives Ukraine $2 Billion Loan Guarantee for Social Spending"

The United States signed an agreement on Wednesday to provide $2 billion in loan guarantees to help war-torn Ukraine with "near-term social spending" in 2015 and said it was prepared to step up economic sanctions against Russia if necessary. After signing the deal with Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew criticized what he called "Russian aggression," a reference to Moscow's support for separatists battling Kiev's forces in eastern Ukraine which has triggered the Western sanctions on Moscow. "We remain prepared to do more (on sanctions) if necessary. To that end, we will continue to work with our allies to increase the pressure on Russia," Lew told reporters at the signing ceremony. Lew added that the sanctions could be eased if Russia abided by the terms of the Minsk agreements signed last September which called for a cease-fire and the withdrawal of Russian fighters and military equipment from Ukraine. Moscow denies Western and Ukrainian accusations that it has sent regular forces into eastern Ukraine.
Like other major donors to Ukraine, Lew said the U.S. deal was contingent on the ex-Soviet republic continuing with fiscal and anti-corruption reforms and remaining on track to meet the conditions of its loan program with the International Monetary Fund. In addition to the $2 billion in loan guarantees offered so far, President Barack Obama will ask the U.S. Congress on Monday to authorize another billion dollars in support for Ukraine, Lew told the BBC in an interview.
IMF officials are now in Kiev negotiating a bailout package, currently worth $17 billion, which Ukraine's pro-Western government hopes will be expanded to help it handle crippling external debt repayments due this year. Ukraine's military on Wednesday reported the deaths of three more Ukrainian soldiers in the past 24 hours, adding to a steadily mounting death toll in a conflict in which more than 5,000 people have been killed since last April.A rebel advance launched last week has shattered a five-month truce. The conflict, which has led to the worst crisis in Russia-West relations since the end of the Cold War, erupted after street protests last February ousted a Russian-backed president. That prompted Moscow to annex Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and provide support to rebels in industrialized eastern Ukraine.

^ If the US and other countries aren't going to do anything real or concrete to help the Ukraine the least they can do is make sanctions and give money to the Ukraine to help  it protect itself against the ethnic Russian terrorists who are supplied with weapons and soldiers from Russia. ^

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Non-Disabled Disabled

From the BBC:
"Why are so many disabled roles played by non-disabled actors?"

Eddie Redmayne has been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in A Theory of Everything, but should the role have been played by a disabled actor?  It's become almost a running joke that if you want to win an Oscar, play a disabled character. Daniel Day-Lewis took the award in 1989 for his portrayal of Christy Brown, an Irish writer born with cerebral palsy, in My Left Foot, and the year before Dustin Hoffmann scooped best actor for his role in Rain Man playing an autistic man with the ability to count hundreds of objects at once.  It's even been suggested by film critics that playing a disabled character is a sure-fire way to secure at least a nomination, and probably a win. Sixteen percent of all the best actor and actress awards have been portrayals of disability or mental illness, after all.  But some disability campaigners question why these roles are not given to people with disabilities or mental illness, who - they say - could portray the nuances of living with such conditions more accurately.  In a recent Guardian article Frances Ryan said that "while 'blacking up' is rightly now greeted with outrage, 'cripping up' is still greeted with awards". She asked whether there was actually much difference between the two, arguing that in both cases actors use prosthetics or props to alter their appearance to fit the role and perpetuate under-representation in the industry.  RJ Mitte, who played Walter White Jr in Breaking Bad, and has cerebral palsy, said in an interview with BBC Newsnight that nobody should be denied the chance to play a disabled role. "The issue it comes down to," he says, "is an accurate and honest portrayal of what that disability means to so many millions of people."  So did Redmayne achieve this portrayal of life with motor neurone disease (MND)? Sarah Ezekiel, who has MND says he did. "I still can't believe how well he played the part," she says. "I never thought that an actor could replicate what MND does to the body, but he did it perfectly."   In the film, Redmayne has to convey the transition from non-disabled to disabled. Because of this, some have argued he is perfectly placed to play the role - a disabled actor, the argument goes, could not have played Hawking before he got MND.
But for Hollywood Reporter film critic Leslie Felperin, the issue is a deeper one about identity politics. She says there has been understandable disgruntlement across the years with white actors playing black roles, but that has moved on to become an embarrassment and not acceptable: "If they were making Gandhi now, they wouldn't cast Ben Kingsley, they would find an Indian actor."
For her it would be more authentic to have a disabled actor playing a disabled role. But in some cases, is it feasible? An actor with the same level of disability as Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man would not have been able to play the role.  Mitte is a good example of somebody who managed to break the mould and play a character who has the same disability as himself. However his personal form of cerebral palsy is not as pronounced as his character's. There was still individual interpretation, and a director's vision involved - part of the acting process for all actors, disabled or not.  The problem, says playwright Christopher Shinn, is that there are an incredibly limited pool of disabled actors who are big box-office draws, and not having a recognisable name in your cast is nothing short of making a doomed film.  But why is there such a small pool? The numbers of disabled parts are smaller than the number of disabled actors so competition is rife. Film critic Callum Madge also argues that a key reason why disabled actors don't get cast is because the industry is a shallow one, with directors regularly choosing not to cast someone because of their height, build, hair colour or any other feature they don't want in their production. If the top roles playing disabled characters are going to non-disabled actors, whatever the reasons behind that decision, it is restricting the opportunities for disabled actors, says blind film critic Tommy Edison. The onus is put onto disabled people to push past the criticism dealt to them, perhaps unfairly, in the industry, he says. For Mitte this is just part of the course. "It's hard to get a role in this industry no matter what, disabled or non-disabled, there's always someone better looking or with a better disability," he says. "What it comes down to is confidence, when you have people with disabilities they don't normally have a lot of confidence."

^ It takes a lot of hard work for a non-disabled actor to portray a disabled person. With that said there needs to be more actually disabled people on TV and in the movies. ^

Civil Chile

From Yahoo:
"Chile approves same-sex civil unions"

Chile's Congress on Wednesday approved the country's first law authorizing civil unions of gay and lesbian couples. The law, which has been in the works for four years, gives legal recognition to unmarried couples and ensures their rights to receive pensions, enroll in health plans and inherit property from one another. It also gives them greater standing in child custody cases. "We are happy that the state recognizes, for the first time, that a same-sex couple also is a family and deserves protection," said Luis Larrain, head of the Fundacion Iguales, a gay rights group. Once signed into law by President Michelle Bachelet, the measure must past muster with Chile's Constitutional Court before going into effect. Gay marriage has been recognized in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Colombia and Ecuador recognize civil unions or partnerships of same-sex couples. Chile, a conservative country with a Roman Catholic majority, has been slower to change. It was one of the last western countries to pass laws, in 2004, recognizing divorce. Abortion for any reason remains banned, and sodomy was punishable with prison until 1999.

^ While it's not full equality for homosexuals - gay marriage would be -  it is a good step. ^

Gitmo Return?

From Yahoo:
"Raul Castro: US must return Guantanamo for normal relations"

Cuban President Raul Castro demanded on Wednesday that the United States return the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, lift the half-century trade embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two nations re-establish normal relations Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that Cuba and the U.S. are working toward full diplomatic relations but "if these problems aren't resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement wouldn't make any sense." Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that they would move toward renewing full diplomatic relations by reopening embassies in each other's countries. The two governments held negotiations in Havana last week to discuss both the reopening of embassies and the broader agenda of re-establishing normal relations. Obama has loosened the trade embargo with a range of measures designed to increase economic ties with Cuba and increase the number of Cubans who don't depend on the communist state for their livelihoods. The Obama administration says removing barriers to U.S. travel, remittances and exports to Cuba is a tactical change that supports the United States' unaltered goal of reforming Cuba's single-party political system and centrally planned economy. Cuba has said it welcomes the measures but has no intention of changing its system. Without establishing specific conditions, Castro's government has increasingly linked the negotiations with the U.S. to a set of longstanding demands that include an end to U.S. support for Cuban dissidents and Cuba's removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.  On Wednesday, Castro emphasized an even broader list of Cuban demands, saying that while diplomatic ties may be re-established, normal relations with the U.S. depend on a series of concessions that appear highly unlikely in the near future. The U.S. established the military base in 1903, and the current Cuban government has been demanding the land's return since the 1959 revolution that brought it to power. Cuba also wants the U.S. to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for losses caused by the embargo. The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Castro's remarks.
^ Any of the Castros (Raul or Fidel) believing the US is going to give back Gitmo or pay compensation shows an old-man mentality of not living in reality. If Obama actually does any of those then he might as well move to the island since he wouldn't be welcomed here anymore. I don't think he (Obama) would even consider doing that. ^

Kobane Freed

From Yahoo:
"Kobane in ruins after Kurds drive out IS"

Pulverised buildings, heavily armed fighters roaming otherwise deserted rubble-strewn streets: the ferocious battle for Kobane has left the Syrian border town in ruins, according to a team of AFP journalists who arrived there Wednesday. Kurdish forces recaptured the town on the Turkish frontier from the Islamic State group on Monday in a symbolic blow to the jihadists who have seized swathes of territory in their brutal onslaught across Syria and Iraq. After more than four months of fighting, the streets of Kobane -- now patrolled by Kurdish militiamen with barely a civilian in sight -- were a mass of debris and buildings that had in some case been turned to dust Kurdish fighters armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles greeted the journalists with a hail of celebratory gunshots into the air and made the "V" for victory sign. Still, the recapture of Kobane appeared to be a major step in the campaign against the IS militants who had seemed poised in September to seize the town, whose symbolic importance had far outgrown its military value.  The US official said many foreign fighters -- including Australians, Belgians, Canadians and Chechens -- were among the dead jihadists.
With the eyes of the international media watching, the jihadists "wanted to raise the largest flag they ever made over Kobane," the official said. "Kobane shows that you're not going to be part of something great... so the whole narrative that ISIL is trying to put out, Kobane really puts a dent in it."

^ This is a huge set-back to IS and other Muslim extremists. The Kurds, as usual, have done a great job and have done what other militaries have tried to do. ^

Disabled Disney

From Disability Scoop:
"Disney Noncommittal On Adding Characters With Disabilities"

The mother of a toddler with Down syndrome has made good on her promise to hand deliver a petition to The Walt Disney Studios asking the company to include more characters with disabilities in its movies. But the media conglomerate’s response suggests that any change to the status quo will be a long time coming, if it happens at all. Keston Ott-Dahl and her partner, Andrea, took 17-month-old Delaney and her two older siblings to Disney’s Burbank headquarters late last month to present studio executives with the names of more than 75,000 people who had signed her petition. Dressed in a blue gown like one of the princesses featured in the animated film “Frozen,” Delaney, tuckered out from the excitement, napped as her 6-year-old sister, Jules, handed a company representative five bound volumes. The Nov. 26 visit followed Disney’s response to a letter Ott-Dahl had sent a month earlier informing the studios of her visit and suggesting that it publicly announce plans to feature more children with disabilities. Although Ott-Dahl says she was pleasantly surprised that she received any acknowledgment at all, the company’s reply was noncommittal and refuted the assertion that youngsters with physical imperfections don’t see other children who look like them in Disney movies. “The Disney brand has always been inclusive,” wrote Paul Roeder, senior vice president of global communications. “We constantly strive … to share compelling storylines from our studios and media networks that … reflect the incredibly rich diversity of the human experience.” He assured Ott-Dahl that Disney remains “committed to continuing to create characters that are accessible and relatable to all children.” Roeder did not respond to a request for comment. But Ott-Dahl remains optimistic that the company will consider her request. “And if not, I’ll keep on ‘em,” she said.

^ It is low over-due for companies like Disney to showcase the disabled in a positive light. ^

Russian Draft Dodging

From MT:
"Russia's Migration Service to Extend Stay for Ukrainians"

The Federal Migration Service has increased the amount of time Ukrainians of conscription age can legally spend in Russia, a day after President Vladimir Putin had called for a loosening of restrictions on Ukrainians eager to avoid the draft. "The Federal Migration Service of Russia, for humanitarian reasons, made the decision to prolong the length of stay for Ukrainian citizens on Russian territory," the press service of the FMS said in a statement Wednesday. Whereas previously these individuals were required to leave after 90 days in Russia, they can now stay until at least Aug. 1.  On Monday, Putin gave a talk at the St. Petersburg Mining University, where he addressed the issue of Ukrainian conscription.  "Many [Ukrainian] people are trying to get out of being called up for duty. Some are trying to come here to Russia and wait things out a while, and they are right to do this because there, they are simply being sent as cannon fodder to face the bullets," Putin said.  He then suggested that migration regulations may soon undergo some changes. "We could increase the amount of time certain categories of people, above all people of conscript age, can stay in Russia," he said.
In order to extend their stay, Ukrainian citizens will need to visit their local migration authorities before the allotted 90 days have run their course, and request an extension, the FMS statement said.
"This procedure applies to all citizens of Ukraine and is not connected with the receipt of any kind of status, such as asylum, temporary asylum or temporary residency. The periods of temporary residence will be extended until Aug. 1, 2015," the press service said. Currently, more than 2 million citizens of Ukraine are residing in Russia, and more than 1 million of them are men of conscription age, the agency said.

^ I wonder what Russia would do to a Russian man that wanted to avoid draft service in the Russian military? Would they allow another country to help them the way they are "helping" the Ukrainian draft evaders? I don't think so. It is another Russian double standard. Of course Russian Conscription (like most things in Russia) is corrupt and the majority of Russian men can get deferments from service by paying either a doctor for a certificate, paying the local draft office or both. I've said it before  - I have only met one Russian man who ever served as a draftee in the Soviet and then Russian military. ^


United Stance For Ukraine

From Yahoo:
"Poroshenko and US press Putin on Ukraine violence"

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko appealed to Russia's Vladimir Putin on Wednesday while Washington threatened tougher measures should Moscow fail to rein in separatists mounting a new offensive in the east of the ex-Soviet republic.   Poroshenko's personal letter and US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's warning came one day after European Union leaders unanimously backed pursuing more economic restrictions against Russia for its alleged meddling in Ukraine. Greece and Cyprus later distanced themselves from the statement but are not expected to fight new penalties the bloc's 28 foreign ministers will draft in Brussels on Thursday. Western sanctions and a coinciding slide in oil prices have plunged Russia into recession and seen Standard and Poor's slap a "junk" rating on Moscow's foreign currency debt. The downgrade threatens to further alienate Western investors as the grade is Russia's worst since the start of Putin's 15-year rule. Yet the pain appears to have done little to alter Putin's tough approach to his western neighbour or to dent Russians' monumental trust in the Kremlin chief.  Pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine last week defiantly pulled out of peace talks and vowed an offensive on a strategic government-held port city that provides a direct land bridge to Ukraine's Russian-occupied Crimea peninsula. A rocket assault on the port of Mariupol left 31 civilians dead at the weekend, in a major escalation of the conflict. The separatist fighters have denied being responsible for the deaths but international monitors have said the rocket fire came from rebel-held territory. The new eastern offensive has also seen separatists in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions try to link up their armies by taking over isolated pockets of land still controlled by government troops. The Kiev military and local pro-government officials said five soldiers and at least three civilians had died in clashes over the past 24 hours. The United Nations believes the latest spiral of violence has pushed the war's death toll above 5,100. Poroshenko's office said his letter to Putin demanded that Moscow immediately rein in the offensive and fulfil the terms of a long-ignored peace plan it signed with Kiev and two top separatist leaders in Belarus in September. On Monday, I sent a letter to President Putin whose main elements included not only the demand to cease fire and implement the Minsk Agreements but also to release Nadezhda (Nadia) Savchenko and all the hostages," the presidency quoted Poroshenko as saying. The female Ukrainian pilot is alleged to have been abducted by the rebels and smuggled to Moscow where she is now being detained. She is charged with involvement in an attack that killed two Russian reporters in June. Savchenko's lawyers said she went on a hunger strike in protest at her detention on December 13.
There was no immediate reply to Poroshenko's letter from the Kremlin. But Putin this week accused NATO of launching a proxy war in eastern Ukraine designed to weaken Russia and sever the two country's ancient relations. US finance chief Lew said during a visit to Kiev that Washington would prefer to ease its worst crisis with Moscow since the Cold War. "Our first choice is a diplomatic resolution that allows us to lessen sanctions," Lew told reporters after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart Natalie Jaresko. "But we are prepared to do more if necessary. To that end, we'll continue to work with our allies to increase the pressure on Russia." Moscow flatly denies backing the insurgents and claims the sanctions are an attempt to punish Russia for going against US policies.
US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a late Tuesday phone call "on the need to hold Russia accountable for its actions". Lew also told Jaresko -- a US national confirmed to her post last month -- that Washington was ready to provide up to $3 billion in support should Kiev press ahead with overdue economic restructuring steps. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday said his country would provide Kiev with another low-interest $200 million loan to help stabilise its economy. Canada already lent the same amount to Ukraine last September. Ukraine's economy contracted by nearly eight percent last year and Kiev is currently facing a massive foreign debt burden that threatens to put it into default within the next few months.

^ Russia continues to support the ethnic Russian terrorists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and soldiers while at the same time they (Russia) say the Ukrainian War is caused by everyone but those actually responsible. Russia has used selective memory and reason throughout its history to move focus away from the truth and push it elsewhere. If Russia would simply focus on making its own citizens (inside the Russian Federation) prosperous with a high standard of living rather than go after all its old territories and people then Europe would be at peace once more. ^

Disabled Proms

From Disability Scoop:
"Disability-Focused Proms Expected To Draw 7,000"

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow is organizing 45 proms around the world on one night just for people with special needs. Churches in 26 different states and in Uganda and Kenya are scheduled to host the parties on Feb. 13. The events — which are expected to draw some 7,000 people with disabilities — will each come complete with a red-carpet entrance, paparazzi, limousine rides, hair and makeup stations, shoe shines and, of course, a dance floor and food. “It’s not just me, it’s not just our foundation, but it is all 45 churches and volunteers in 26 states, three countries, coming together to show love and make a difference in more than 7,000 lives,” Tebow said in a statement. “The special needs community will shine on this night.” The Tim Tebow Foundation is providing $600,000 in funding for the “Night to Shine” proms, which are open to individuals ages 16 and older. Additionally, the nonprofit said it worked with groups serving those with special needs to put together a manual for organizations hosting the events. Erik Dellenback, executive director of the Tim Tebow Foundation, said the group was inspired to sponsor proms for people with disabilities after experiencing a similar event at a church last year. Dellenback said they hope to make the proms an annual event.

^ Anytime that the disabled are given the opportunity to be treated like everyone else is a step in the right direction. I hope more of these dances and proms can be held around the country and the world. ^

Cape Town De Klerk

From the BBC:
"South Africa's Cape Town renames street after FW De Klerk"

Cape Town's city council has voted to rename a street after South Africa's last white ruler despite opposition from the national governing party.   City mayor Patricia de Lille accused the African National Council (ANC) of thuggish behaviour during a chaotic session of the council.  It opposed renaming a major highway after FW de Klerk, saying he had the blood of black people on his hands.
Cape Town is South Africa's only major city controlled by the opposition.  Mr De Klerk handed power to then-ANC leader Nelson Mandela in South Africa's first democratic election in 1994.
Backlash The meeting became so chaotic that the venue had to be changed, and ANC councillors were locked out.  Officials in the Democratic Alliance-controlled city said the decision to rename Table Bay Boulevard was taken following a recommendation by prominent South African personalities, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Mr De Klerk shared the Nobel Peace prize with Mr Mandela for his role in negotiating an end to apartheid.  However, he has faced a backlash from the ANC in recent years after saying that not all aspects of apartheid were morally repugnant and it had aimed to create separate but equal states for different races and ethnic groups in South Africa.
Although he said he apologised for the injustices apartheid had caused.  The National Party (NP), which Mr De Klerk led in the late 1980s and early 1990s, introduced apartheid in South Africa in 1948.  It discriminated against black people in all spheres of their lives, and saw them as inferior to white people.  Mr Mandela spent 27 years in jail, mainly on Cape Town's Robben Island, after taking up arms to end white-minority rule.

^ Without de Klerk being in power Apartheid wouldn't have ended and with it the racial laws and violence would have continued. It only makes sense that South Africa remembers him and his work to bring peace to the country (through working with Nelson Mandela.) ^

Kazakh Rally Ban

From the MT:
"Kazakhstan Bans Rallies to Avoid Becoming Next Ukraine, UN Says"

Kazakhstan says it has clamped down on peaceful rallies out of fear of a repeat of the protests that brought chaos to Ukraine, a United Nations special rapporteur said in a critical report on the central Asian state. Kazakhstan's strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev has sought to play the role of peacemaker in the Ukraine conflict, that was triggered by popular protests that forced the then President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country in 2014. Concluding a fact-finding visit to Kazakhstan, the UN rapporteur Maina Kiai said there was a "very limited space for the expression of dissenting views" in the oil-rich nation. "Various government officials that I met with mentioned the necessity of limiting peaceful assembly for fear of a revolution such as the recent ... events in Ukraine," he said in a statement released late on Tuesday. "I do not accept this as a legitimate ground for restricting the right (to protest)," he added. There was no immediate comment from Kazakh officials. Ukraine's popular uprising, which installed a pro-Western government in Kiev, sent shockwaves across authoritarian post-Soviet Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, which has been ruled by Nazarbayev since the downfall of communism. Nazarbayev, a former steelworker who has warm ties with Russia, has overseen market reforms and attracted massive foreign investment. But he has also kept a tight lid on dissent. The West and human rights bodies denounced the Kazakh government after police opened fire in December 2011 to quell a revolt by striking oil workers in the western town of Zhanaozen. At least 16 people were killed. "Although authorities repeatedly make reference to the 'rule of law,' the practice in Kazakhstan reflects strong adherence to 'rule by law,' perhaps a holdover from the past Soviet era," Kiai said. He added that he was "deeply disappointed" when some of the people he met during his visit this month to Kazakhstan allegedly came under police surveillance.

^ It seems that many former Soviet Republics with any ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers (which is all 15 former Soviet Republics - not including Russia) are worried to some extent on Russia invading and occupying their land like they did in Georgia and the Ukraine. The only ones that have a more solid defense force is Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia since they are full members of the EU, NATO, Schengen and Eurozone and so what happens to them would affect the whole EU and NATO.) ^

Auschwitz Twins

From the BBC:
"The twins of Auschwitz"

When the Soviet army liberated the Auschwitz death camp 70 years ago many of the prisoners had been killed or marched away by the retreating Nazis. But among those left were some twin children - the subject of disturbing experiments by Dr Josef Mengele. Vera Kriegel and her twin sister Olga were just five years old when they were taken from their village in Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz.
Transported in cattle cars which were so tightly packed that the dead were still standing, she recalls the "sheer terror" of arriving at the camp and treading on "dead people like steps" as she left the train.
New arrivals at the camp were sorted into the weak, who would be gassed straight away, and the strong, who would be made to work. But Mengele and his assistants were there too, looking for twins.  Vera, her sister, and her mother were taken straight to SS Captain Josef Mengele. He was intrigued, she says, by what he described as her mother's "perfect Aryan features" and blue eyes, while Vera's and her sister's were brown.  Mengele selected them for experimentation.  Another woman who remembers her arrival at the camp is Jona Laks, who was taken as a teenager from the Lodz ghetto. She was not immediately recognised as a twin and was initially sent off in the direction of the gas chamber - when her sister told Mengele they were twins he had her brought to his laboratory.   Josef Mengele was an assistant to a well-known researcher who studied twins at the Institute for Heredity Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt - he started working at Auschwitz in May 1943.  There he had an unlimited supply of twins to study, and he wouldn't get in trouble if they died.  Jona Laks says Mengele removed organs from people without anaesthetic, and if one twin died the other would be murdered. Vera Kriegel says that he killed people with an injection to the heart, and then dissected them.   She remembers being ushered into his laboratory. "I was looking at a whole wall of human eyes. A wall of blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes. These eyes they were staring at me like a collection of butterflies and I fell down on the floor."  The first experiment she was subjected to involved being kept in a small wooden cage with her sister and being given painful injections in her back - she doesn't know why, but thinks it may have been an attempt to change the colour of her eyes.   In another experiment, she says, the pair of them and more than 100 other twins were given injections of bacteria that cause Noma disease - an infection of the mouth or genitals, which causes boils and often turns gangrenous.  Some twins became feverish, and some died, she says. She also remembers Mengele reacting angrily when twins went missing - once when this had happened she stared him out to prove he could not completely dominate her.  As well as twins, Mengele experimented on dwarves, giants and Romas.  Moti Alon, who arrived in Auschwitz aged nine in 1944, remembers being forced to watch a dwarf and a Roma woman being made to have sex. 
He remembers having a number tattooed on his arm. The same happened to his brother, though the tattooist made a mistake. "Instead of writing 17 they wrote 10 so they erased it and did some dots," he says.  For Menachem Bodner who arrived at the camp with his brother as a three -year-old, this number became his identity.  When he left the camp in 1945, he had no idea who he was.  With the help of Israeli genealogist Ayana KimRon and a Facebook page set up to help, he has recently discovered that his real name is Elias Gottesman and that he and his brother, named Jeno, were born in a small town east of Munkacs, then part of Hungary, now in Ukraine (and known as Mukacheve).
KimRon also discovered that his father had died in a camp and that his mother, Roza, had returned to Hungary following a death march from Flossenburg concentration camp - only then to be murdered in her home town in 1946 during an anti-Semitic riot.  Now aged 74, he continues to search for the twin brother he last saw when the camp was liberated in 1945.  On 26 January 1945, Vera Kriegel remembers, the guards "were in a big panic. So they poured petrol over the barracks and tried to destroy all the evidence."  Grabbing a big pack of family photos, Vera, her mother and sister, fled the camp, only to be caught and beaten and thrown back into the barracks.  The following day, Soviet troops entered Auschwitz. The soldiers, she says, "brought these striped coats and told us to put them on and roll up our sleeves, so we could show our numbers.   "They filmed us, the children. They wanted to know what happened to us [and] Mengele's experiments. Everything was written down." As for Mengele, he fled West and was arrested by the US Army. But he had no SS blood group tattooed on his arm so he was released by a unit that was unaware that his name was on a list of major war criminals. He worked as a farmhand in Bavaria before escaping to Argentina in 1949.    Though the West German authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1959, Mengele remained in South America before his death from drowning following a stroke at a holiday resort in Brazil in 1979. He was buried in Sao Paulo under the name Wolfgang Gerhard.   The children coped with the appalling ordeal of Auschwitz and Mengele's experiments in different ways.  Moti Alon, his mother and twin, eventually made their way back home, arriving in Budapest on 5 May 1945. He now lives in Israel. "I have no traumas, not from this," he says.  Vera Kriegel emigrated to Israel with her mother after the war, where she lives today. Seventy years later, she still has nightmares.  Jona Laks became an activist, the head of a group of Mengele twins. She has been back to Auschwitz many times, and says what she experienced there has never left her mind.  Menachem, the boy with no name, eventually returned to his home town in Ukraine.

^ I have met some of the twin survivors (when I worked at the Holocaust Museum) and heard their stories. The experiments that were done to them (and to homosexuals, Gypsies, the disabled, etc) are horrific to hear. ^

Russian Pensioners

From the MT:
"Living Standards Slide for Russia's Struggling Pensioners"

For Boris Lisitsyn, Russia's financial crisis means less meat, cheese and sausage — hardships the 86-year-old says won't kill him anytime soon. But for him and the millions of pensioners who make up about a third of Russia's population, rising prices are also spurring anger over declining living standards, threatening a pool of support President Vladimir Putin cannot afford to lose. Russia's pensioners were once seen as "people we just needed to support" one government official said. But with women able to retire at 55 and men at 60, and healthcare improving, many are becoming more forceful in their demands. It's a trend not lost on Putin, whose role as a protector of stability, social conservatism and generous state spending has won a strong following among the elderly. Their loyalty is now being tested by a financial crisis triggered by low oil prices and Western sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine. The Russian leader has dismissed any thought of cutting social spending, telling the government this month: "First of all, whatever we do and whatever plans we make, we must ensure the fulfillment of our social commitments." But even with those commitments met, and increases in benefits promised, life for millions is becoming difficult. "In the 1990s there was nothing in the shops but fridges were full," Lisitsyn said, referring to the collapse of the Soviet Union which shattered supply lines and the command economy, forcing many to rely on home-grown produce. "Now it's the other way round — there's everything in the shops but fridges are all but empty," said the former military officer and radio factory worker. Sitting at a small formica table in the kitchen of his two-room flat in a Moscow suburb, Lisitsyn said he struggles to keep up with price rises for food and medicine, saying sometimes he walks into a shop "only to walk out again." The average monthly pension stood at 10,029 rubles ($148 at today's exchange rate) in 2014, the Federal Statistics Service said. Pensioners say one of the biggest blows from the crisis is the rising price for medicine, most of which are imported. For Nina Frolova, 84, about a fifth of her 15,000-ruble pension goes on medicine. Other outgoings include 1,500 rubles a month on her subsidized Moscow flat, 150-200 on electricity and 350 rubles on the telephone bill. Officials have hinted at possible price caps and Putin has promised to index pensions to inflation, although senior ministers have cast doubt over whether this is affordable. Russia's State Pension Fund is projected to spend around 7.6 trillion rubles, equivalent to 10 percent of gross domestic product, this year. More than a third of the amount (2.8 trillion rubles) will be funded from budget transfers that swallow up 18 percent of the federal budget.

^ It's sad when those most in need (the elderly, disabled and children) are affected by things that could be fixed by their government. ^

Belarussian Stance

From MT:
"Belarus Is No Crimea: New Law Views Foreign Fighters as Act of Aggression"

Belarus has adopted a new law that states the appearance of any foreign fighters on its territory will be viewed as an act of aggression, even if they cannot be identified as regular troops. The legislation, which takes effect on Feb. 1, seems to be Minsk's response to Russia's actions in neighboring Ukraine, where unmarked Russian troops overran Crimea prior to its annexation last spring and where Russian fighters have led pro-Moscow-separatists in the east.  According to a copy of the law published online, Minsk will view the deployment of another nation's armed groups, irregular forces, mercenaries or regular military units in the country as a military attack, regardless of whether or not it was accompanied by a declaration of war. The package of amendments to Belarus' law on the state of war come after repeated warnings from President Alexander Lukashenko that Russia should not meddle in his country. Moscow has regularly cited its need to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine as a guise for its annexation of Crimea and policy in the east of the country. In apparent response, the Lukashenko administration — which had favored the Russian language for decades despite opposition criticism — has announced plans to restore instruction in Belarussian in the nation's classrooms. Education Minister Mikhail Zhuravkov said the country would begin a process of "de-Russification" of its schools, with history and geography classes becoming the first subjects to be taught exclusively in Belarussian, the country's Belorusskiye Novosti reported Saturday. The move marks a sharp about-face for the government of Lukashenko, who had continued praising Russian as his country's language of choice until shortly before the start of the Ukrainian political crisis that eventually led to the annexation Crimea and the violence in eastern regions. "Belarus has a special relation with the Russian language," Lukashenko said in 2013, according to state-run BelTA news agency. "In our country, Russian is a state language. This is a principled decision." The annexation of Crimea seems to have rearranged this principle. After Russia sent its forces to Crimea this spring, Lukashenko denounced Ukraine's troops for "sitting like mice under a broom at their bases," telling Ukraine's Shuster Live television program: "I would be the first to go to war." More recently, Lukashenko described Russia's behavior as "suspicious," telling the Security Council on Dec. 16 that Belarus needed to increase its defense capabilities to guard against threats from both the east and the west, according to a transcript of his remarks on his administration's website. Three days later, the Belarussian parliament passed the latest amendments to the law on the state of war. Defense Minister Andrei Ravkov told lawmakers that the changes had been prompted by "contemporary conditions and consideration given to the nature of existing challenges and threats," BelTA reported. Government officials did not specifically point at Russia as a possible threat. Instead, the law says that Belarus will view an attack against any member of a Russia-led collective security agreement of former Soviet states as an attack against Belarus.

^ Belarus and Russia have a special agreement (a union) that they don't have with any other country and yet it seems Belarus is slowly rethinking that decision. I'm not saying it doesn't have a right to do so because it does. Belarus doesn't want Russia to use the same excuse it used in Georgia, Moldova and the Ukraine  - ie that they are protecting the ethnic Russian (or even just Russian speakers) in that area. That excuse is what Hitler used when it took over Austria and Czechoslovakia in the 1930s (protecting the ethnic Germans and German-speakers living there.) I have met several Belarussians and the majority only speak Russian even if they are ethnically Belarussian and not ethnically Russian. I am not surprised that they are going to start teaching some classes solely in Belarussian (they tried that in the 1990s and stopped, but things have changed in those 20+ years.) ^

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Worst EU

"What every European country is the worst at"

The European Union has 28 member countries. And kinda like Captain Planet, when their powers combine, they make for a pretty great place to live.  But that doesn't mean each country is without its flaws. It's like the Planeteer who controlled the element of Heart. Sure, he helped make Captain Planet. But he was the worst at getting haircuts.
Anyway, here's what every European country is the worst at.

For whatever reason, young Austrian people seem to think smoking is still cool, so they're sucking down cigarettes. A LOT of cigarettes. Every day, 29.4% of Austrians age 15-24 inhale coffin nails.
In the time it takes to drive through a Belgian city, you could probably eat a dozen waffles. In fact, the two most traffic-congested cities in the world, Brussels and Antwerp, are both in Belgium. You thought Houston and Atlanta were bad -- now try navigating all that in Dutch and French.
According to Reporters without Borders, Bulgaria has the least freedom of the press in the European Union, and it ranked 87th on a list of 179 countries in the world. We'd badmouth Bulgaria more, but nobody there is probably reading this anyway.

The country with the most freedom of the press in the world? Finland, of course.
Since 2000, Croatia has had the least participation in the Erasmus, Europe’s university exchange program, compared to its total population. The country is the most recent addition to the European Union, having officially joined in July 2013. It’s also really easy to spot on a map because it’s shaped like the first letter in it’s name (a big C), which is way cooler than the Italian boot shape. Italy should be named Bootaly. That'd be way better.
What are 18 year olds in Cyprus doing? Well, not smoking as many cigarettes as their Austrian peers, or being killed by cars while cycling like the Dutch. But they're definitely not going to school as much, either. But if you were surrounded by that Mediterranean climate, you probably wouldn't want to be in school, either.
The movie Taken should have taken place in the Czech Republic, end of story.
Life in Denmark is pretty great. But there are only two Zara stores in the entire country. God forbid you'd have to shop somewhere else. But really, if you're after reasonably priced Spanish clothes, you’re going to have to fight for them against other Danes -- in fact, you'll have to fight with about 2.8 million other Danes per store. That's a lot of Danes.
In Estonia, women make 27.3% less than their male counterparts. Even in a place thought of as being really macho, like Italy, the difference is only 5.8%. Women’s wages in Estonia are more unfair than the rules of Monopoly.
Finland is really good at a lot of things--like that "whole freedom of the press" deal. But depression is pretty prevalent; if you were that far north, you'd probably get depressed by all the cold weather, too. Fortunately, Finland's suicide rate is no where near Lithuania’s.
To no one’s surprise, France has Europe’s lowest English proficiency. Somewhere, a guy eating soft cheese and a baguette is saying, "I don't care" in French.
Germans aren't particularly interested in owning their own homes... probably because they already own most of Spain and Greece.
This one just edged out "Country with hairiest arms". As of the end of 2013, Greece’s foreign debt was 130.3% of its GDP. Translation: that's really bad.
Hungary has the highest value added tax, with the standard rate a whopping 27%. So if you’re Hungary (get it?) for the government to take a high percentage of the money you spend on consumer goods, this should be your new home.
Ireland has the highest rate of cystic fibrosis, at a rate of 1 case per 1,800 births. You can't really joke about something like that.
Is it any coincidence that Al Capone was finally pinched for tax evasion, while the birthplace of the mob has the highest percentage of unreported economic activity of any European Union country? Probably not; the mob and tax evasion go hand in hand. It’s estimated that $239 billion USD are lost in unpaid Italian taxes per year. That's billion, with a B.

Think of how many spicy meatballs that could buy.
Latvia has the highest percentage of its population in prison, with 305 per 100,000 inhabitants locked up. And yet, despite that mind-boggling figure, it’s only half of the rate in the United States, which sits at 716 per 100,000.
Lithuania’s suicide rate is so high, it’s nearly ten times higher than Greece’s. WTF is going on in Lithuania?
In 2007 Luxembourg spent only 3.15% of its GDP to fund public education. Presumably, the rest of its GDP was spent adding more vowels to the country’s name.
On a list of 189 countries compiled by the World Bank, Malta ranked no. 161 on ease of starting a business. It even outranked other countries notorious for disorganization like China, the West Bank, and Spain. Two words, Malta: banana stand.
It’s really hard to find anything wrong with the Netherlands. Well, except Arjen Robben. Despite the stereotypes, though, the Dutch are far from the highest consumers of marijuana (that would be Denmark). But on the off chance you get into a car accident in any EU country, the odds of killing a cyclist are highest in the Netherlands.
You have a lower chance of bumping into a doctor in Poland than of being able to pronounce his name correctly.
Portugal has just 7.9 births per 1,000 inhabitants. That’s almost half of Ireland’s 15.0 births per 1,000 inhabitants. So basically, 21st century Europe is going to be populated by a lot of Irish people and not very many Portuguese people.
Romania has only 3.8 cinemas per million inhabitants. Can you imagine what that looked like on the day Guardians of the Galaxy came out? Lines must have been hundreds of thousands of people deep, and still nobody wanted to sit in the front row.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Czech Republic has the most cinemas per capita, with 49.2 cinemas per million inhabitants, presumably because they are being built and operated on slave labor.
Who votes in Slovakia? Almost nobody. Actually, it's 13.05% of the population, but that's a pathetically low turnout. Voter turnout was the highest in Belgium, with 89.64% of the population showing up to vote. Those people should vote to have less traffic.
Slovenia, you really need to learn about moderation.
For any Spaniard reading this, a dropout rate is the percentage of students who do not complete schooling. In Spain’s case, 23.5% of students in the country do not complete mandatory education. So basically, 23.5% of Spaniards looking at this article have no idea we're talking about them right now.
Maybe Sweden has fewer sick people than other countries. Or maybe Swedish hospitals prefer patients bring their own sleeping bags. It's like camping for sick and injured people!
Here are three other drugs the United Kingdom uses more of than any other country in the EU: amphetamines, ecstasy, and LSD.

 ^ This goes along the other post  with what the EU member states are good at. The France item was not surprising as anyone who has ever dealt with a French person (especially outside of France) knows they are highly arrogant and refuse to speak or learn English.  ^

Snow Hype

From the BBC:
"US snow: National Weather Service admits forecast error"

The US National Weather Service (NWS) has admitted its forecasts were wrong, after predicting a "potentially historic blizzard" would strike. The storm piled deep snow on Connecticut and Massachusetts, but New York City was largely spared. The city's mayor, Bill de Blasio, defended claims he had overreacted to warnings, saying he had only acted on the information available. Blizzard warnings remain along the coast from Long Island to Maine. "Rapidly deepening winter storms are very challenging to predict," the NWS wrote on its Facebook page. The storm has moved further east and will be departing faster than our forecasts of the past two days.  "The result is much less snow than previously predicted for the western half of our region," it added.  On Monday an emergency was declared in a swathe of north-eastern states, and meteorologists predicted up to 90cm (36in) of snow. Officials later downgraded the numbers.The New York City authorities imposed a driving ban - since lifted - and took the unprecedented step of shutting the subway.  But on Tuesday New Yorkers awoke to a blanket of snow less deep than feared, and since then city life has been getting back to normal. Shutting down the New York subway system, for the first time in its history because of snow, can easily be viewed in retrospect like overkill. So does bringing in a car curfew, which banned non-emergency vehicles from the streets from 23:00 last night. Walking the empty streets of Manhattan pre-dawn, and seeing the snow, we all found ourselves asking the same question: "Is that it?"  It reminded me of that scene from Crocodile Dundee, when Mick Dundee is confronted by muggers wielding a switchblade. "That's not a knife," he says, pulling out a much scarier weapon. "This is a knife."  That's not a storm, some New Yorkers told us, as they made their way to work muttering that Bill de Blasio had got it badly wrong.  Worst affected elsewhere were Connecticut and Massachusetts, which saw 52cm (20.5in) and 67cm (26.2in) respectively, compared to the 13cm (5.5in) seen in New York's Central Park. Thousands of people are without power, mostly in Massachusetts. The state's only nuclear power station shut down after the blizzard interrupted its power flow. But Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker said the snow had been "fluffier and lighter" than anticipated, meaning there were less power outages. "The wind here is tremendous, it's difficult to see very far out the window," said Christie Craigheard in New Hampshire, another of the affected areas. The NWS is still warning of potentially life-threatening conditions along the New England coast, as the storm heads north into Canada. Air travel remains disrupted, with more than 5,000 flights cancelled, according to Schools across the region are expected to remain closed until Wednesday, with public transport expected to be back to normal in New York by then too.

^  Weather forecasting is a science (no matter how many weathermen/women say it's not.) It's called meteorology and the people who study it are called meteorologists. It seems that they have gone the same way as other news and would rather cause hype then tell the facts. Not every storm is the "Storm of the Century."  We are still  getting some snow and winds, but not nearly what they said we would get. ^