Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Birthday!

Today is my birthday. Back when I was a kid I used to share a birthday party with my brother and sister (since all of our birthdays are in the summer.) We would each get our own cake - made by my mom - and get to invite our own friends so it was a pretty fun time. I haven't had a birthday party since I moved to Germany for the second when I was 12 (although I did still get a cake.) Since I went to college I have only had a birthday cake twice (once in Russia and once last year.) I would love to have a birthday cake each year, but don't want to get it myself.
I also love getting cards through the regular mail (whether it's for my birthday, Christmas or just because.) So far this year I have received a total of 7 cards - not my best year by far. I haven't received an e-card either.
I did get a call from my sister and from my best friend so that was good.
As for presents I have received several. This is the first year I have had people ask me specifically what I wanted or they looked at my Amazon Wish List and so I got things I will use. I received: money, books, DVDs, a watch, Haribo and a box of Polish chocolate (it was a soup of chocolate when I opened it due to the summer heat - but it was the thought that counted.)
Whether it is birthday cards or presents I sometimes get them up to several weeks after my birthday because my friends and family live around the country and the world.
I have also received a decent stream of birthday wishes from people on Facebook. As of right now (8:30 pm) 32 people have written on my Wall. That's not even close to the number of my friends on Facebook, but I guess it's quality and not quantity.
My dad got some really good looking steaks and is cooking them now so soon I will have my birthday dinner and it already smells great so I know it will taste just as good.
Since I am no longer a kid and am in-between the "major" birthdays and the fact that nothing bad happened (knock on wood) I still consider this birthday a good one. It would be a great one if I was able to spend it with family and friends, have a cake and get more cards. A lot has happened in the 1 year since my last birthday and so I guess I should count myself lucky this birthday turned out as well as it did.

JetBlue Charges

From Yahoo:
"After resisting for years, JetBlue adds checked bag fee"
The era of free checked suitcases on JetBlue has come to an end. The airline proudly proclaimed itself a holdout on fees for years, allowing passengers to check one bag for free. Now it will charge up to $25 for checked luggage. The move leaves Southwest Airlines as the only major U.S. carrier not to charge a bag fee. JetBlue Airways had announced the change in November but didn't detail how it would be implemented until Tuesday. The fee only applies to new bookings; existing reservations still get one free bag. Passengers will pay less if they plan ahead. Those with the cheapest tickets will pay $20 each way if they check in online or at a kiosk. The fee jumps to $25 if they go to the counter. A new fare class that costs about $15 extra each way would include one free bag. Fees for a second checked bag and reservation changes are being lowered. The airline plans to reinvest the millions of dollars it will collect from bag fees into new seats and TVs, according to Marty St. George, JetBlue's executive vice president of commercial products and planning. The New York-based airline still stands out in other ways. By the end of next year, it will offer free Internet on all its Airbus A320 and A321 jets. Passengers also get free access to more than 100 channels of live satellite TV and radio and JetBlue still has more legroom than its competition. JetBlue doesn't have a fixed bag fee like other airlines. Instead, it has rolled out three new fare classes. The cheapest, called Blue, doesn't include a checked bag — although passengers can always add one later at a higher cost. The next fare, Blue Plus, includes one free checked bag, more frequent flier points and lower fees if passengers want to make changes to the reservation. The most-expensive tier is called Blue Flex and comes with two free checked bags and allows changes without penalty. Some fees are being cut. The charge for a second checked bag will drop from $50 each way to $35. JetBlue used to charge $75 to $150 to make changes to a reservation, based on the price of a ticket. That fee is dropping to $70 to $135 for the cheapest tickets and $60 to $120 for the Blue Plus fares.

^ I flew JetBlue once to Boston and it was a good airline. I have also flown Southwest and while they don't charge for a checked-bag they also don't have any on-board entertainment, food for sale or assigned seats. I would rather have the option to fly on a plane that charges a baggage fee if it also gave you a choice of food and entertainment. If JetBlue flew out of my local airport I would use them more. ^


Monday, June 29, 2015

TX Disabled Cameras

From Disability Scoop:
"State To Require Cameras In Special Ed Classrooms"

In what’s believed to be a first, a new law in Texas will require schools to install cameras upon request in classrooms serving students with disabilities. The law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month mandates that school districts and open-enrollment charter schools in the state employ video cameras if they are requested by a parent, trustee or staff member. Under the measure, such requests can only be made for self-contained classrooms and other environments where the majority of students are receiving special education services. “We heard testimony from students with special needs and parents whose lives have been forever changed by mistreatment in the classroom,” state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., who authored the legislation, told Disability Scoop. “It is my intention that the presence of cameras in these students’ classrooms will provide evidence in cases of abuse, and will also protect teachers who face wrongful accusations.” According to the law, cameras are to be used exclusively “in order to promote student safety.” Cameras cannot be placed inside bathrooms or other areas where students change clothes, but should be able to record video and audio of all other areas of the classroom. The measure includes limits on who may view recordings and the circumstances in which such footage can be reviewed. Several school districts and groups representing educators had opposed the bill, telling local media they had concerns about cost and the effectiveness of cameras in improving student safety. Nonetheless, Abbott signed the legislation without comment. The new law will take effect with the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

^ I am surprised that it was Texas who made this law to help protect the disabled. With all the issues that have plagued special education over the years (ie teachers and students treating the disabled horribly) putting camera with video and voice-recording in their classrooms will help to stop these problems. Of course these incidents can happen in the bathrooms, the gym, the cafeteria, other classrooms, the hallways, the sports' fields, etc and as cameras won't be in those places it will not completely eliminate the problem. Only active school (teacher and student) involvement can do that. ^ 


Canada Day Info

From  the Government of Canada's Website:
"Canada Day celebrations across the country"

 Here's a brief history of the holiday:
The Creation of Canada Day:
July 1, 1867: The British North America Act (today known as the Constitution Act, 1867) created Canada.
June 20, 1868: Governor General Lord Monck signs a proclamation that requests all Her Majesty’s subjects across Canada to celebrate July 1.
1879: A federal law makes July 1 a statutory holiday as the “anniversary of Confederation,” which is later called “Dominion Day.”
October 27, 1982: July 1, “Dominion Day” officially becomes Canada Day.
The Celebrations Start
July 1, 1917: The 50th anniversary of Confederation. The Parliament buildings, under construction, are dedicated to the Fathers of Confederation and to the courage of Canadians who fought in Europe during the First World War.
July 1, 1927: The 60th anniversary of Confederation. The Peace Tower Carillon is inaugurated. The Governor General at the time, Viscount Willingdon, lays the cornerstone of the Confederation Building on Wellington Street.
From 1958 to 1968: The government organizes celebrations for Canada’s national holiday every year. The Secretary of State of Canada is responsible for coordinating these activities. A typical format includes a flag ceremony in the afternoon on the lawns of Parliament Hill and a sunset ceremony in the evenings, followed by a concert of military music and fireworks.
July 1, 1967: The 100th anniversary of Confederation. Parliament Hill is the backdrop for a high-profile ceremony, which includes the participation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
From 1968 to 1979 (with the exception of 1976): A large multicultural celebration is presented on Parliament Hill. This concert is broadcast on television across the country. The main celebrations (called “Festival Canada”) are held in the National Capital Region throughout the month of July. These celebrations include many cultural, artistic and sport activities and involve the participation of various municipalities and volunteer associations.
From 1980 to 1983: A new format is developed. In addition to the festivities on Parliament Hill, the national committee (the group tasked by the federal government to plan the festivities for Canada’s national holiday) starts to encourage and financially support the establishment of local celebrations across Canada. Start-up funding is provided to support popular activities and performances organized by volunteer groups in hundreds of communities. Interested organizations can make a request to the Celebrate Canada program.
1981: Fireworks light up the sky in 15 major Canadian cities, a tradition that continues today.
1984: The National Capital Commission (NCC) is given the mandate to organize Canada Day festivities in the capital.
2010: Festivities on Parliament Hill receive a royal treatment when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh join the festivities to celebrate Canada’s 143rd anniversary.
2011: Their Royal Highnesses Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, participate in Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill on the occasion of Canada’s 144th anniversary.
2014: Canadian Heritage organizes the 147th Canada Day celebrations. As we approach Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, the government has given the Department the mandate to organize Canada Day festivities in the capital.

 ^   The link below has a great wealth of information on hundreds of towns and cities throughout Canada and what they plan to do to celebrate Canada Day on July 1st.  ^



From the DW:
"Gavrilo Princip, assassin who sparked WWI, gets statue in Belgrade"

Serbia has unveiled a monument to the man who sparked the chain of events leading to World War I. Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 has a divisive legacy in the Balkans.  Gavrilo Princip, whose two-meter bronze likeness was unveiled before a crowd of hundreds in central Belgrade still fuels controversy in the ethnically-divided Balkans. Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic described Princip as a freedom fighter and a hero. "Today, we are not afraid of the truth," Nikolic said. "Gavrilo Princip was a hero, a symbol of the idea of freedom, the assassin of tyrants and the carrier of the European idea of liberation from slavery," Nikolic told the crowd. To the many outside of Serbia who view Princip as a terrorist, Nikolic said, "others can think what they want." Princip, a Serbian nationalist opposed to the Austrian-Hungarian empire's occupation of his country, shot dead Ferdinand, heir to the imperial throne, on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo, precipitating the chain of events that sent Europe tumbling into World War I. Austria held Serbia responsible for the assassination of the Archduke, and with the support of Germany, Austria attacked Serbia, whose allies, Russia and France, were soon entangled in the conflict. The Ottoman Empire, Britain and later Italy and the United States also joined the fighting. Princip's legacy has long been a source of controversy in the Balkans, a region still sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines, and which emerged from an ethnically fueled war in the 1990s that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Serbs in Bosnia regard Princip as a hero, while the nation's Croats and Muslims widely view him as a killer and nationalist who sought to have Bosnia occupied by Serbia. At the outbreak of World War I, most Muslims and Croats preferred to stay a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Sarajevo last year marked 100 years since the assassination, but Serbian and Bosnian Serb leaders shunned the event on account of Princip's divisive legacy. World War I would eventually cost some 14 million lives, including 5 million civilians and 9 million military personnel. Princip was arrested immediately after the assassination and died in captivity a few months before the war ended in what is now the Czech Republic.

^ This is a difficult issue. On the one hand he is seen as a hero (mostly to the Serbs) who wanted to free his country from Austro-Hungarian Empire. On the other hand, his actions led to a World War where millions upon millions of innocent men, women, and children suffered and died. Had the assassination merely resulted in the violence being controlled to the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire it would have been seen as a war for freedom, but since it engulfed the whole world it is seen by most as a terrorist act. Serbia needs to be careful on whom they honor because what they may consider heroes could be viewed by the rest of the world as terrorists or war criminals - especially if they start honoring the Serbs and Bosnian Serbs that were involved in the Bosnian and Croatian Wars of the 1990s. ^


Married Benefits

I got this on Facebook.  It sums up why homosexuals deserve to get married rather than have a union. Marriage has more benefits than a union or common-law marriage do. That is why this is a civil rights issue and not a morality one.

Russian Paper

From the MT:
"Russian Entrepreneurs Launch Toilet Paper Covered in Text of Western Sanctions"

A group of Siberian entrepreneurs have started selling toilet paper featuring the text of the sanctions imposed against Moscow by the European Union and the United States, local news site NGS Omsk reported.  The group, which is called "Our Response," says the toilet rolls are a way of letting Western governments know that Russians do not respect the sanctions against their country, and showing support for the government's foreign policy, organizer Kirill Kolyasin told the local NGS Omsk site on Saturday. The idea to produce the toilet rolls first came to Kolyasin last year, but it was only after the EU this month extended its sanctions against Russia until January that his group decided to take the idea more seriously. Our Response commissioned 1,000 printed rolls with the intention of selling them online at a price of 990 rubles ($18) for a pack of two. The product will come sealed in a plastic casing covered with images of Western leaders, NGS Omsk reported. The group has also sent their product to the U.S., German and British embassies, the report said.

^ This is beyond funny  - especially for anyone who has ever been to Russia. Most countries around Europe make you pay to use the public bathroom and Russia is no different. However, unlike the other countries you can not find toilet paper in the majority of those fee-bathrooms. Sometimes you can ask the old woman cashier (and it is always an old woman) for some and she will give you up to two sheets. In restaurants, bars, clubs, schools, etc where you don't have to pay I have never seen toilet paper unless someone brought it in with them. Also, their bathrooms sometimes have 1 door and several toilets - with no stalls in them. Also, Russian-made toilet paper is usually sold by the roll (not in a package) and is dark brown and tends to be made with wood pieces. I usually spent an extra few bucks and bought toilet paper made outside of Russia. It was well-worth it. That is why this stunt is so funny. Maybe the Russians should focus on improving their toilet paper shortage and fix their bathrooms before trying to poke fun at the rest of the world. ^


Controlled Greece

From Yahoo:
"Greece imposes capital controls, banks to remain shut"

Greece's five-year financial crisis took its most dramatic turn yet, with the cabinet deciding after an 8-hour session that Greek banks would remain shut for six business days and restrictions would be imposed on cash withdrawals.  The Athens Stock Exchange would also not open Monday, financial sector officials confirmed. The moves were meant to staunch the flow of money out of Greek banks and spur the country's creditors to offer concessions before a bailout program expires Tuesday. The accelerating crisis has thrown into question Greece's financial future and continued membership in the 19-nation shared euro currency — and even the European Union. For the past two days, Greeks have been rushing to ATMs to withdraw money across the country following Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' sudden weekend decision to call a referendum on creditor proposals for Greek reforms in return for vital bailout funds. A decree published early Monday in the official Government Gazette stipulates banks will not open Monday morning and would remain closed through Monday, July 6. The finance minister could decide to shorten or extend that period. Withdrawals from ATMs will be capped at 60 euros ($66) daily. The decree said ATMs would be working at the latest 12 hours from its publication, meaning cash machines should open by early afternoon.  Web banking transactions would be mostly free, allowing Greeks to pay bills online. However, they cannot move money to accounts abroad. Credit and bank cards issued abroad can be used at ATMs with no restrictions, benefiting foreign visitors to Greece and its tourist industry. Anxious tourists had joined locals at ATM lines Sunday, thinking the restrictions would also apply to them. For emergency needs, such as importing medicines or sending remittances abroad, the Greek Treasury was creating a Banking Transactions Approval Committee to examine requests on a case-by-case basis. In the referendum set for next Sunday, the government is urging Greeks to vote against its creditors' proposals, arguing that they are humiliating and that they would prolong the country's financial woes.  Spooked by rumors concerning impending fuel shortages, drivers flooded gas stations across Greece, prompting the country's largest refiner, Hellenic Petroleum, to issue a statement reassuring there are sufficient reserves of gasoline to last several months. The rush to gas stations may have been prompted less by worries about shortages than the impending withdrawal limits and rumors, later proven untrue, that the use of credit or debit cards would not be permitted. Greece's current bailout expires Tuesday, and the 7.2 billion euros ($8 billion) remaining in it will no longer be available to Greece after that date.
Without those funds, Greece is unlikely to be able to pay a 1.6 billion-euro ($1.79 billion) International Monetary Fund debt repayment due the same day.
^ This is no surprise. Greece has been slowly collapsing for several years. The same basic controls were made in Cyprus and just recently lifted there. I believe Greece will either be forced out of the Eurozone or willingly leave it and do so soon. That will be the beginning of the end of the Euro as a whole. I said back in 2002, when it was first introduced, that it wouldn't last because of all the different countries using it (ie rich and poor) and it looks like I may be proved right soon. ^


Friday, June 26, 2015

US Marriage Legal!

From the BBC:
"US Supreme Court rules gay marriage is legal nationwide"

The US Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage is a legal right across the United States. It means the 14 states with bans on same-sex marriage will no longer be able to enforce them.   Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the plaintiffs asked "for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right." The ruling brings to an end more than a decade of bitter legal battles. Same-sex couples in several affected states including Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Texas rushed to wed on Friday.  However officials in some states including Mississippi and Louisiana said marriages had to wait until procedural issues were addressed. President Barack Obama said the ruling was a "victory for America".  "When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free " he said.  The first state to allow same-sex marriage was Massachusetts, which granted the right in 2004.
In recent years, a wave of legal rulings and a dramatic shift in public opinion have expanded gay marriage in the US.  In 2012, the high court struck down a federal anti same-sex marriage law.

States affected:
  • Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, most of Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.
^  This decision gives new hope to those who doubted the Supreme Court (like I did) after their recent ruling on Obamacare. Their decision that gay marriage is constitutional and that all 50 states and DC has to not only recognize gay marriages from other states, but also to perform them within their state goes along the same lines as their decision in the 1960s that segregation (ie separate, but equal) of blacks was unconstitutional. It doesn't matter if you are gay or straight (ie "straight, but not narrow.") This is a Civil Rights issue that has finally been resolved.  Hopefully, the 14 states that this really affected will not follow the segregationists' example of fighting with Federal troops to stop gays from marrying. That was a lost cause back then and would be today. The flag above shows where gay marriage is now legal in the US (ie the dark blue.) Technically the whole map should be dark blue as of today. Gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states, DC and Guam. The US territories of: Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands still forbid gay marriage, but hopefully that will change in the near-future.

Aussie Change

From the BBC:
"How will Australia's citizenship changes work?"

The Australian government wants to strip Australian citizenship from dual nationals who engage in terrorism.  On Wednesday, it introduced amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 to parliament that would prevent dual nationals involved in terrorist acts overseas from returning to Australia, and deport dual nationals who engage in terrorism in Australia. The amendments will come before a vote in parliament  Under the current act, people are automatically stripped of their Australian citizenship if they are a national or citizen of a foreign country and they serve in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia.  According to the government, there are about 120 Australians fighting with Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East, and about half of them hold dual citizenship.  It says another 160 Australians are supporting IS through financing and recruiting terrorism, and it has cancelled 120 Australian passports to stop people travelling to conflicts in the Middle East.  The changes expand the operation of section 35 of the Australian Citizenship Act to automatically strip dual nationals of their Australian citizenship if they "engage in various kinds of conduct inconsistent with allegiance to Australia". The changes apply to dual citizens born in Australia and people from other countries who have been naturalised. The bill confirms the loss of citizenship will be "subject to judicial review".
What conduct is considered inconsistent with allegiance to Australia?
  • Engaging in international terrorist activities using explosive or lethal devices.
  • Engaging in a terrorist act; providing or receiving training connected with a terrorist act.
  • Recruiting for or financing a terrorist organisation.
  • Going overseas to fight for foreign armies deemed enemies of Australia, or for listed terrorist organisations.
  • Being convicted of terrorism offences by an Australian court.
^ I can understand a country stripping a person who became a citizen through naturalization, but not someone who is considered a native-born citizen (no matter for awful crimes like murder and terrorism.) I am a dual-citizen myself and am considered a native-born Canadian in Canada and a native-born American in the US. No matter how horrible the crime a person commits their nationality should not be able to be taken away - unless, of course they are naturalized. If a person takes a test to become a citizen of another country and then commits a crime then the naturalized country should be able ton strip them of their citizenship and deport them back to their homeland (or keep them in prison.) ^

Thursday, June 25, 2015

US Liked

From the BBC:
"The world 'largely likes' the US, says global survey"

A global survey of 40 countries by the Pew Research Center finds that large numbers of people have a favourable opinion of the United States, its economy and the US-led fight against the Islamic State.  Overall, the US is largely seen in a positive light, with a global median of 69% of people saying they viewed the US favourably. That's up from 65% in 2013 and 2014, says Pew.
China vs the US:
Chinese and US officials, at the helm of the world's biggest economies, are meeting in Washington for annual talks. While the recent global downturn stoked fears that the US was losing ground to China economically, there has actually been a rise in the number of people who think the US is still on top.  Of the 40 countries polled, a majority in 30 of them view the US as the world's biggest economic power. India has seen the biggest jump in the number of people who think the US is on top.
However, it's important to note that majorities in 27 countries believe that China will eventually replace the US as the world's top superpower. The European Union is the most convinced of China's inevitable supremacy.
US Fighting ISIS:
When it comes to the US-led fight against Islamic State, the US enjoys broad support. A median of 62% of people around the world say that they support US military actions against the Islamic State group. That figure is compared to the 24% of people who oppose US-led efforts against the group in Iraq and Syria. While the Iraq war that raged a decade ago was largely unpopular, majorities in America's key European allies are supportive of the campaign. A near-majority of people in important Middle Eastern allies are supportive as well. Back home, 80% of Americans - including 88% of Republicans and 80% of Democrats - view the campaign favourably. Across the northern border, the fight enjoys the support of about two-thirds of the Canadian public.

^ It seems that for now we are winning the popularity contest. ^


Food For Thought

From MT:
"Putin Extends Russian Food Ban in Retaliation Against Sanctions"

President Vladimir Putin has extended Russia's ban on food imports from the West by one year, longer than had been expected, in retaliation to the extension of European sanctions against Moscow over Ukraine. The ban, which prohibits most food imports from the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway, was expected to be prolonged for six months starting from early August after the European Union extended sanctions this week. "Our reaction on the decision of our European colleagues regarding so-called sanctions … The head of the government has approached me with a letter to extend measures, which we put in place in a response to actions of our partners," Putin told a meeting of government members in Moscow on Wednesday. "... We extend our retaliatory measures for one year starting from today. I think it will be a good guideline for domestic producers," Putin said. The list of banned products, approved last year, included fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, milk and dairy, but the Agriculture Ministry said earlier on Wednesday that it was considering adding confectionery, canned fish products and flowers to the list.
It was not immediately clear if Putin had approved the expanded list.

^ While there are some food industries affected by these Russian sanctions the majority of companies have moved to new markets and left Russia in the dust. Russia needs the EU and US markets more than we need Russian markets - whether it is food, technology, etc. ^


Supreme Choice

From the BBC:
"Obamacare subsidies preserved in US Supreme Court ruling"
The US Supreme Court has upheld a key portion of President Barack Obama's healthcare law, preserving health insurance for millions of Americans. In a 6-3 decision, the justices said that tax subsidies that make health insurance affordable for low-income individuals can continue. The ruling preserves the law known as Obamacare, which Mr Obama considers a major part of his presidential legacy. Republicans have vowed to continue fighting the law. "We've got more work to do, but what we're not going to do is unravel what has now been woven into the fabric of America," Mr Obama said. The case, known as King v Burwell, was the second major challenge the law has faced in the US's highest court. Unlike in many other western countries, the US does not have a single-payer healthcare system. Private companies, rather than the US government, provide health insurance for US citizens.  The enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) - one of Mr Obama's most significant and controversial domestic achievements - in 2010 mandated that every American had to purchase private insurance. It provided the subsidies to allow many to do so. In 2012, the mandate portion of the law was challenged in the court. The justices ruled to preserve it. In that decision, as in the decision on Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts surprised observers by siding with his liberal colleagues in support of the law. "Congress passed the Affordable Care act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion. Justice Anthony Kennedy dissented in 2012, but sided with the majority on Thursday. Had the court made the opposite decision, an estimated 8.7 million people in the US would have been at risk of losing the aid that makes healthcare affordable. 

Obamacare by the numbers

  • citizens in 37 states depend on federal subsidies to make healthcare affordable
  • cnly 13 states and Washington, DC have established their own exchanges
  • over 10m people have purchased coverage through one of the new exchanges - federal or state
  • on average, the federal government provides a $272 (£173) monthly subsidy
^ People should know that it was the US Supreme Court that once said "separate, but equal" was constitutional allowing for the racist Jim Crow laws to be made after the Civil War and lasting until the 1960s. The Supreme Court almost 100 years later declared that segregation (ie separate but equal) wasn't constitutional. With that in mind the Court declaring that Obamacare is constitutional (as well as the subsidies) now could be changed by the Court in the future.  It's not that I am against universal health care. I am against how Obamacare is set-up. It forces every American to get health insurance or be fined. I would support the way it is done in Canada - the Canadian Government (through the provinces) gives health care to its citizens. There is a big difference between giving and forcing. Obamacare also doesn't change the whole healthcare system to make it more modern and better suit the medical needs of the millions of people that use it. It simply puts a Band-Aid on a decaying and overworked system. It forces millions upon millions of new people into the "dying ship" that healthcare in the US has become rather than giving it the fix from the ground-up that it needs. The US has the world's best technology, best doctors, best researchers, etc and yet its healthcare system is becoming that of some Third World country. ^

Cheap(er) Moscow

From the MT:
"Moscow Is No Longer One of World's Most Expensive Cities"
Moscow plummeted out of the world's top 10 most expensive cities to live in as a result of the ruble's drastic depreciation during the last year, according to the latest international ranking released Wednesday. The city fell from ninth place last year to 50th this year in the annual cost of living survey by U.S. consultancy company Mercer. St. Petersburg dropped 117 places to 152 in the ranking, “as a result of Russia’s ruble losing significant value against the U.S. dollar, lower oil prices, and a lack of confidence in the currency following Western sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine,” Mercer said in a press release. The ruble lost almost 50 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar last year amid a slump in the price of oil, Russia's most valuable export commodity, and economic sanctions imposed by Western countries. “Currency movements will always play a really big part in the rankings but the impact this year has been particularly acute,” the Financial Times newspaper cited Kate Fitzpatrick, a consultant at Mercer, as saying. Tokyo, which had frequently led the rankings during the past 20 years, also left the top 10, sliding to the 11th spot from seventh last year, which Mercer attributed to the yen's weakness against the U.S. dollar. The ranking is compiled by looking at various factors such as the cost of everyday goods and services and the cost of renting accommodations of an international standard, using New York as the base city against which others are compared. The most expensive city this year for a second year running was the Angolan capital Luanda, followed by Hong Kong and Zurich.
^ On the one hand it's good to hear that the residents, tourists and expats in Moscow don't have to pay so much for the same things as other places. On the other side, it is only because of the international sanctions put on Russia for their involvement in the Ukraine. ^


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Olympic Stars

From the Disability Scoop:
"Stars To Usher In Special Olympics"

Everyone from Stevie Wonder to Jimmy Kimmel and Avril Lavigne will be on hand to kick off the Special Olympics World Games next month, organizers say. The summer games will begin July 25 with an opening ceremony at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum produced by the same team responsible for the opening events at the Olympic Games in London in 2012 and Sochi in 2014. In addition to Wonder and Lavigne, performances are expected from Disney star Cody Simpson, rock band O.A.R., former Pussycat Dolls lead singer Nicole Scherzinger and Latin pop singer J Balvin. What’s more, Eva Longoria, Michael Phelps, Yao Ming and other celebrities are slated to appear. “I am touched to be a part of this celebration of determination, courage, joy and skill,” Wonder said. “Throughout my own journey of overcoming the odds, it’s truly an inspiring moment to join these incredible athletes as they come to Los Angeles to compete and accomplish so many victories.” The opening ceremony will launch more than a week of competition among athletes with disabilities from around the globe. Organizers say that the World Games will bring together nearly 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches from 170 countries. Over 60,000 spectators, including royalty, heads of state and government leaders, are expected in Los Angeles for the event. The opening ceremony will be broadcast live on ESPN.

^ I think it's great and important to have as much attention placed on the Special Olympics as the other Summer and Winter Olympic Games receive. I do think they should remove the word "special" from the Special Olympics as it implies something different. I don't know what word they could use, but I'm sure there is something better. ^


Not MY Flag!

From Yahoo:
"Amazon, eBay, Etsy ban sales of Confederate flag merchandise"
Amazon, eBay and Etsy -- three of the most prominent online retailers in the US -- decided Tuesday to ban sales of the Confederate flag and related merchandise on their sites. The companies made the change as a quick response to a groundswell of public complaints that the companies were allowing sales of the controversial symbol. Their decisions follow similar bans from retailers Walmart and Sears on Monday. Both eBay and Etsy sent out emails confirming the change. Amazon also confirmed it is pulling down Confederate flag merchandise.  Calls to get rid of images of the Confederate flag -- an often controversial symbol, for some of black slavery and for others of Southern history -- have surged in recent days. The public outrage follows a shooting last week in a historic African-American church in South Carolina that left nine people dead and is believed to be racially motivated. The accused shooter, Dylann Roof, was seen in at least one picture found online holding a gun and the Confederate flag. "We believe it has become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism," eBay spokeswoman Johnna Hoff said in a statement Tuesday about the flag. "This decision is consistent with our long-standing policy that prohibits items that promote or glorify hatred, violence and racial intolerance." An Amazon webpage showing Confederate flags for sale. Etsy echoed that position in its own statement Tuesday "Today, we are removing confederate flag items from our marketplace," the company said. "Etsy's policies prohibit items or listings that promote, support or glorify hatred and these items fall squarely into that category." On Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds, a move that appears to have built momentum for the cause to have retailers stop selling Confederate-themed merchandise. Soon after, both Walmart and Sears -- which operates both Kmart and Sears stores -- said they would stop selling Confederate flags and related merchandise, such as T-shirts, hats and belt buckles. "We have a process in place to help lead us to the right decisions when it comes to the merchandise we sell," Brian Nick, a Walmart spokesman said in a statement. "Still, at times, items make their way into our assortment improperly -- this is one of those instances."
Calls on social media for other retailers to follow suit rapidly picked up steam, with people requesting eBay, Amazon and Etsy stop selling items -- from lighters to coffee mugs to bikinis -- with the Confederate flag.
^ I have believed that the Confederate flag and all Confederate symbols should be banned before this recent trend. There are people who say the Confederate symbol isn't racist and doesn't promote violence yet even the racist, segregationists of the 1950s-1960s saw the Confederate flag as a symbol to oppress and carried it as their banner against Civil Rights. Confederate symbols need to be banned the same way the Hammer and Sickle and the Swastika should be. It's not a question of freedom of speech, but a question of doing what is right. At least the first step: getting people aware of the issue is starting. ^


KGB Protection

From MT:
"Former KGB Officer Wins Case Against Lithuania"

A Lithuanian man who worked for the KGB when the Baltic state was part of the Soviet Union won his case against his country at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday after he claimed his KGB past had prevented him from finding further employment. Raimundas Rainys was fired from his job as a lawyer at a telecommunications firm in 2000 after falling foul of Lithuania's KGB Act, which came into force the year before and prohibits former officers in the infamous Soviet secret police from occupying various private-sector posts, according to an ECHR press release. Rainys, a Lithuanian national born in 1949, took his case to the ECHR in 2005 and the court ruled that banning former KGB officials from working for private companies was discrimination. Despite the ruling, Lithuania's Supreme Court later rejected Rainys' request to be reinstated to his previous position. In the latest case brought before the ECHR, Rainys argued that his attempts to be reinstated to his position at the telecommunications company were thwarted because of the continued existence of the KGB Act in the Baltic country. All seven ECHR judges sitting Tuesday ruled in Rainys' favor, finding Lithuania in violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) when taken in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life). It ruled that Lithuania should pay Rainys 6,000 euros ($6,700) in compensation in addition to covering his 2,000 euro court costs, the ECHR press release said. Two other men, Juozas Sidabras and Kestutis Dziautas, brought similar cases against the Lithuanian state but the ECHR did not rule in their favor. The court ruled Tuesday that the men had failed to prove that their inability to find employment was because of the existence of the KGB Act. Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, gained its independence from Moscow in 1990.

^ The decision from this court is beyond stupid. There is no other way to say it. These judges made the worst decision they could possibly make and helped to destabilize democracy in countries that were under tight, Communist dictatorships 24 years ago. Anyone who was in the KGB, Stasi (or other Communist-controlled secret police) or part of the Communist dictatorship should be barred from certain positions (both public and private) the same way a former Nazi or Gestapo member should have been after World War 2. There is no difference in the methods they both used to control and subjectify Europe to their will. Someone should look into the past of these judges and make sure they are "kosher." ^


More Suupport

From MT:
"U.S. Offers Troops to NATO Force Tasked With Deterring Russian Aggression"

The United States has said it will contribute special operations forces, intelligence and other high-end military assets to a new NATO rapid response force that aims in part to deter any future actions by Russia. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement on Monday during a trip to Germany, where he delivered an address accusing Moscow of trying to re-create a Soviet-era sphere of influence. "We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia. We do not seek to make Russia an enemy," Carter said in an address in Berlin. "But make no mistake: We will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us all." Russia's intervention over Ukraine has put NATO allies in eastern Europe on edge and triggered a series of military moves by the NATO alliance, including an acceleration of exercises and the creation of a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF).  Moscow denies providing troops or arms to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. But neighboring NATO countries, especially the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, fear Russia could foment trouble on their territories. Carter, who met European members of the VJTF in Muenster, Germany before flying to Estonia, said he was preparing to discuss planned U.S. contributions to the force with NATO defense chiefs later this week in Brussels. The U.S. support would include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets — which can include drones or manned aircraft — as well as special operations forces, logistical expertise and high-end U.S. military assets. Carter also said it would include airlift and precision joint fire capabilities, which could include anything from land-based artillery to air support or naval firepower. "We're making this commitment to the VJTF because the United States is deeply committed to the collective defense of Europe," Carter said, speaking alongside his Dutch, German and Norwegian counterparts in Muenster. Although many of the contributions announced on Monday could be drawn from within Europe, a defense official said the announcement could mean a temporary increase in U.S. forces in Europe in a crisis situation. Still, U.S. defense officials stressed that the United States was mainly providing high-end support to enable European land forces that form the bulk of the VJTF. During his trip this week, Carter will climb aboard a U.S. warship in Estonia fresh from Baltic Sea drills. He could offer more details in Europe this week on plans to pre-position heavy military equipment, officials say. Moscow has decried the new steps by NATO and threatened to strengthen its own forces and to add more than 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year. U.S. officials say Ukraine has illustrated the importance of being able to counter "hybrid warfare," the blend of unidentified troops, propaganda and economic pressure that the West says Russia has used there. Moscow accuses the West of engineering the overthrow of a pro-Kremlin president last year in order to bring Kiev under its sway and try to isolate Russia. NATO's historic focus had been the conventional threats of the Cold War, which effectively ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But Carter said NATO "will not rely on the Cold War playbook," citing instead a combination of military and non-military tools, including sanctions. European Union foreign ministers extended economic sanctions on Russia until Jan. 31 on Monday, keeping up pressure on Moscow to help resolve the Ukraine conflict. Carter encouraged Europe to keep up the sanctions — which he called the best tool — for as long as it takes to change Russia's calculations. "The United States will not let Russia drag us back to the past," he said.

^ More countries around the world need to stand-up for their signed treaties and commitments. Most simply sign things and then ignore them. That makes those treaties as worthless as the paper they were written on, Russia signed countless treaties agreeing to protect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial rights (ie the Crimea, the Black Sea, etc) and then simply tore the treaty up when it wanted to invade, occupy and annex the Crimea and give weapons and soldiers to the ethnic-Russian terrorists in eastern Ukraine. It's good to see that the US is at least keeping to its NATO commitment (ie an attack on one NATO member is an attack on NATO itself) and doing something concrete to help prevent a Russian attack on any NATO country that borders Russia (all have experienced first-hand Russian/Soviet occupation before and know the current threat is real once again.)  Other NATO countries (ie Germany, the UK, Canada, etc) need to step-up and do the same. Most are not only members of NATO, but also the EU and so they should be doing a lot more to protect themselves and their member states. ^


Private Ransom

From USA Today:
"Obama to loosen restrictions on private ransoms for hostages"
The Obama administration plans to create a new office to work with the families of hostages kidnapped overseas, and adopt new rules that would make it easier for them to negotiate private ransom payments if possible, officials said Tuesday. The government itself will maintain its no-ransom policy, the officials said, saying that paying kidnappers will only encourage more kidnappings. Family members of hostages have protested the policy, and criticized the government over threats of prosecution if they tried to raise ransom money themselves. Among those protesting the policy: Diane Foley, the mother of the American journalist James Foley whose beheading last year was videotaped by the Islamic State.  President Obama ordered a review of U.S. hostage policy in December, and expected to announce the results on Wednesday. The administration planned to brief affected families on Tuesday, the officials said.
^ I can understand the US Government having a "no ransom for hostages" policy as it would only encourage more hostage-taking. As for the families involved it should be up to them whether they pay a private ransom for their loved-one or not. I can not say for sure what I would do in such a situation, but I do know the individual families know what is best for themselves and their held loved-one. ^


Occupation Hazards

From MT:
"Russian Agency Investigated After Calling Crimea an 'Occupied Territory'"

Russia's consumer protection agency may face criminal charges for a tourism memo that urged Russian vacationers to show caution when traveling to "occupied" Crimea, and advising them to request permission from Ukrainian authorities to visit the peninsula, which Moscow annexed last year. The Prosecutor General's Office said the memo by the Consumer Rights Protection Society "contains appeals for abetting the activities of a foreign state, international organization or their representatives, aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation," according to a statement released Monday. The case has been sent to investigators to determine whether criminal charges should be brought, the statement said. The section of the Russian law cited in the statement as the grounds for possible criminal charges allows for punishments that can range from community service to five years in prison. The consumer rights society's memo warned Russians that "under international law," Crimea remains part of Ukraine, and urged tourists to follow a set of precautions when visiting the "occupied territory" and to obey Ukrainian laws. "Ukrainian law envisages a procedure for entering and leaving the occupied territory, and tourists who violate it may be subject to criminal responsibility, up to a prison term," the memo read. "Out of consideration for their own security, tourists are advised to observe Ukrainian laws and cross the border only with the permission of Ukraine's border service in the Kherson region." If any problems with Ukrainian authorities appear, Russian travelers may demand their money back from tour operators for having failed to warn them about the "possible risks of being on an occupied territory." While the warning reportedly caused Russian vacationers to call travel agencies with questions about the potential hazards of Crimean travel, the government's media watchdog Roskomnadzor received orders from the Prosecutor General's Office to block the consumer protection agency's website, Interfax reported. President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the memo "absurd," since "Crimea, as is well known, is a region of the Russian Federation," news agency Interfax reported. Peskov declined, however, to comment on the memo's suggestion that Russian travelers should go through official Ukrainian routes to Crimea, saying that "recommendations on the choice of travel itineraries is outside the Kremlin's jurisdiction," according to the report. Most countries and major international organizations consider Crimea part of Ukraine, but Moscow insists that the peninsula's "reunification" with Russia was legitimate, and has recently denounced the United Nation's nuclear watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, for listing in its annual report a nuclear site near Crimea's Sevastopol as being in Ukraine. The memo has already stoked a "panic" among Russian tourists, the nation's travel industry association spokeswoman Irina Tyurina said, Interfax reported. Amid Western sanctions imposed against Moscow for annexing Crimea and amid Russia's economic downturn, foreign travel has become too expensive for many Russians, while the government has also been urging citizens to spend holidays on the peninsula. After the memo came out, "clients have been calling tour operators since 9 a.m., expressing complaints, fearing to go on vacations," Tyurina was quoted by Interfax as saying. "Considering that Crimea is not the most popular domestic travel destination among Russians, this notice has stoked panic." She also said that the consumer rights group had no business warning Russians about criminal charges they supposedly may face for violating Ukrainian border laws, Interfax reported. "Russian tourists will not have any problems with entering Crimea," Tyurina was quoted as saying, adding that travel warnings were a task for the Foreign Ministry and other government agencies, and "none of them have made statements like that."

^ This consumer watchdog was doing exactly what it was meant to do - advise people about how things really are. The Crimea is skill part of the Ukraine that is currently occupied by Russia. Russia broke numerous treaties and international law when it invaded, occupied and annexed the Crimea. The UN are the majority of countries around the world still consider the Crimea to be Ukrainian. A historical example is that the parts of the Soviet Union occupied by the Nazis during World War 2 were still technically part of the Soviet Union, but realistically occupied and run by the Germans. A person wanting to go from say Kazan (in the un-occupied part of the country) to Krasnodar (in the occupied part of the country) had to deal with the Nazi occupiers and also risk the threat of Soviet power for what they did during the occupation. A Russian going to the Crimea today needs to remember that the world sees the territory as part of the Ukraine and so they could have trouble if they then try  to go to the rest of the Europe, the US or other parts of the world for their actions in Russian-annexed/occupied Ukrainian Crimea. I know that this consumer watchdog in Russia will be severely punished by the Russian Government for speaking the truth. That is unfortunately the current signs of the times in Russia today. ^



Monday, June 22, 2015

Highly Special

From Disability Scoop:
"Teen Goes From Special Ed To Valedictorian"

For Chance Mair, sometimes emotions are hard to express. And it was certainly an emotional night in suburban Seattle at Marysville Arts and Technology High School’s graduation earlier this week, where the students filed into the auditorium in black gowns and royal-blue stoles. Not only was Mair graduating with the 50 seniors in his class, he was the class valedictorian. And he would be giving the valedictorian address, a momentous occasion for a student who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at an early age. Mair had never told most of his classmates he has Asperger’s. Never told them he had started his schooling in a special education classroom, or that he received social therapy treatment when he was younger. “It’s one of those things that for the longest time I didn’t want to tell people,” he said earlier in the day. “But now that I’m graduating, I don’t want to hold it back. I want people to know me for who I really am.” Growing up in Marysville, Wash. Mair spent his childhood learning how to overcome sensory struggles that come naturally to other children. Having Asperger’s meant he didn’t talk much, and he had difficulties understanding the nuances in body language. He was overly sensitive to loud noises and strong flavors. His parents recount stories where he would struggle to tell his peers he wanted to play with them, standing quietly by their side. “I can know that I need to say something and I can feel the confidence to say it when I’m playing it out,” he said. “But then when I get to that step where I actually have to do it, like the execution, that’s when I tense up and get really nervous, really scared. “Sometimes it’s not even a shyness, sometimes it’s like a fear, a fear of socialness.” His parents knew his success depended on finding a place where he could build his social skills — and have fun doing it, too. One way he did that was through bowling. He became fascinated with the sport when he was about 5 years old, playing with different teams in bowling alleys around the Marysville area. “Diversity is one of the reasons I like it. There’s no one kind of person, there’s no one way you can bowl,” he said. “There are so many possibilities, I guess.”His family chose Marysville Arts and Tech because it was a small school where he could continue working on his social skills, as well as receive extra attention. “At a smaller campus those teachers are getting to know you,” his mother said. “They’re learning about your learning style and you’re having them again year after year.” And he thrived there, with a GPA high enough to earn the valedictorian’s medal. In August, Mair will attend Washington State University for free through a Distinguished Regents scholarship. He chose WSU over Central Washington University, where he was also accepted. A member of the honors college, he plans to major in mathematics and join the intramural bowling league. “I’m really happy that I’ve achieved so much and that I’ve gotten to this point in life, but I’m also really sad that all the time has gone by and now I have to say goodbye to all my friends,” he said. When he told them about his Asperger’s, some in the audience audibly expressed surprise. His struggles, he said, are similar to the struggles everyone faces in their lives. To him, everyone has something they need to overcome, and it’s just a matter of how to learn, persevere and move forward.
^ This is a cool story that everyone can relate to in one way or another. ^


21 Smoking

From Yahoo:
"Hawaii becomes first U.S. state to raise smoking age to 21"

Hawaii's governor on Friday signed a bill raising the legal smoking age statewide to 21, the first U.S. state to do so. The law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2016, and will also ban the sale, purchase or use of electronic cigarettes for those under the age of 21. "Raising the minimum age as part of our comprehensive tobacco control efforts will help reduce tobacco use among our youth and increase the likelihood that our keiki (children) will grow up to be tobacco-free," Governor David Ige said in a statement. Also on Friday, Ige signed a bill banning smoking and e-cigarette use at state parks and beaches, acts already banned in all city and county parks other than of Kaua'i County, according to his office. Most U.S. states set the legal smoking age at 18, while a handful have set it higher at 19. Some cities and counties, including New York City and Hawaii County, have already raised the smoking age to 21. Lawmakers in Washington state and California have also pushed to raise the legal smoking age to 21 in recent months. Opponents of the bill have argued that it limits choice for people considered adults in other situations, like joining the military. In Hawaii, roughly nine out of 10 smokers start before the age of 21 and many report receiving cigarettes from friends or relatives of legal age, according to the governor's office.
 ^ I should state that I do not smoke and also don't really drink alcohol. With that said I believe that if you are legally considered an adult at 18 (you can vote, run for office, fight/die for your country, etc) then you should be able to choose to smoke and drink at 18 as well. ^


Racist Flag

From MSN:
"Republicans Tread Carefully in Criticism of Confederate Flag"

The massacre of nine African-Americans in a storied Charleston church last week, which thrust the issues of race relations and gun rights into the center of the 2016 presidential campaign, has now resurfaced another familiar and divisive question in the emerging contest for the Republican nomination: what to do with the Confederate battle flag that flies on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol. And similarly to some of their predecessors seeking to win the state’s first-in-the-South primary election, the leading Republican candidates are treading delicately so as not to risk offending the conservative white voters who venerate the most recognizable emblem of the Confederacy. Jeb Bush issued a statement on Saturday indicating he was confident that South Carolina “will do the right thing.” As Florida’s governor, Mr. Bush in 2001 ordered the Confederate flag to be taken from its public display outside his state’s Capitol. Senator Marco Rubio, also of Florida, told reporters he thought the state would “make the right choice for the people of South Carolina.” But neither candidate would state explicitly whether they wanted South Carolina to remove from state-sanctioned display a flag that for many African-Americans represents a particularly searing reminder of slavery. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin begged off entirely from questions about what to do with the flag in South Carolina or whether it represents racism, saying that he would not address any such matters until the victims of the mass shooting were buried. The carefully calibrated answers were a vivid illustration of the challenge Republicans face in attempting, simultaneously, to broaden their party’s appeal to minorities while also energizing those white conservatives who are uneasy about what they see as bowing to political correctness. Three days after a 21-year-old white man with a recent history of anti-black views, is believed to have killed Clementa Pinckney, a pastor and state senator, along with eight members of Charleston’s, historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the presidential campaign finally caught up to a country reeling from the gruesome display of racial terror. Mr. Bush came the closest, recalling when he was governor of Florida, the state moved a Confederate flag “from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged.” But he went no further than predicting that South Carolina would “do the right thing.”
If the Republicans were reluctant to call directly for the flag to come down, they realized that they had to speak more plainly about the racial motivation behind the attack. The fight over the flag’s placement has a long history in South Carolina. It was originally placed atop the Capitol during the administration of Gov. Fritz Hollings, a Democrat, in 1962 as the civil rights movement gained steam, ostensibly to mark the centennial of the Civil War. There was a push in the late 1990s to take it down, an effort which partly contributed to the defeat of a Republican governor who supported its removal. The flag would continue to fly above South Carolina’s copper-domed Capitol until 2000, when a bipartisan agreement was reached moving it to a Confederate memorial nearby.
^ I don't care if you are Republican, Democrat or apolitical. No one should want to wave, salute, fly or fight for a Confederate flag. There is a reason the racist, segregationists used the same flag during the Civil Rights Movement. They knew it stood for hating anyone who wasn't white and Protestant during the American Civil War and kept using it to show their support for Jim Crow. Anyone who wears or flies a Confederate flag might as well also wear a white hood. All symbols of the Confederacy should be banned in the US the same way Nazi symbols are banned in Germany (and other European countries) and Soviet symbols are banned (also in several European countries.) The only flag that should be protected in the United States is the Stars and Stripes. ^

Extended Sanctions

From the BBC:
"Ukraine crisis: EU extends Russia sanctions to 2016"

EU foreign ministers have extended economic sanctions against Russia until the end of January 2016.
The aim is to make Russia comply with the Minsk ceasefire accord signed with Ukraine in February, EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic tweeted. EU and US sanctions target associates of President Vladimir Putin and Russian state banks, military and energy firms.   The EU foreign ministers extended the sanctions against Russia at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.  A statement said the decision was taken without debate in response to "Russia's destabilising role in eastern Ukraine". Russia condemned the move, warning that it would respond reciprocally. Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter, speaking during a visit to Berlin, Germany, said the sanctions were having an effect in countering Russia's "aggression" in Ukraine. But he added: "We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia.  "We do not seek to make Russia an enemy. But make no mistake: we will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us. We will stand up to Russia's actions and their attempts to re-establish a Soviet-era sphere of influence." EU sanctions were imposed on Russia after Moscow's annexation of Crimea in March 2014. They have been escalated because of Russia's role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Nato says hundreds of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles have gone into eastern Ukraine, along with regular Russian army soldiers. Under the sanctions regime Russian state banks are excluded from raising long-term loans; exports of dual-use equipment for military use in Russia are banned; and future EU-Russia arms deals are banned.  There is an EU-US ban on exports of some oil industry technology and services, though gas remains unaffected. The sanctions also target many senior officials in Russia and in the separatist leadership, including Crimean leaders, and organisations linked to them.
^ The sanctions are one step that is needed to show that the world takes what Russia is doing in the Ukraine seriously. I know many Russians see the sanctions as a "badge of honor" or only blame everything on the West and not their own government - which is exactly what happened during Soviet times. I also know that what Russians say when they live inside Russia and what they say when they are outside of Russia tends to differ. I guess they are worried about government reprisals. I still remember when I was living in Russia and watched people cross the street rather than walk in front of a very large, ugly building. I asked someone what the building was and they said it was the former regional branch of the KGB. Even though it wasn't used for any official government use anymore and hadn't been for about 15 years people still took the long way around the building rather than "risk" going near the front door. ^


Srebrenica Visit

From the BBC:
"Serbia PM Vucic to attend Srebrenica anniversary"
Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic says he is ready to attend ceremonies making 20 years since the Srebrenica massacre. Nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war. Mr Vucic said he was prepared to "bow his head" to the victims. The prime minister is closely associated with Serbia's nationalist past, and the move is seen as an attempt to improve ties with Bosnia. Serbia is currently bidding for European Union membership.  "As prime minister, I am ready to bow my head to show the stand we take towards the innocent victims of Srebrenica," said Mr Vucic. He described Srebrenica as "hell", but stopped short of calling it genocide, as the UN has done. But Srebrenica Mayor Camil Durakovic said Mr Vucic's statement was a "provocation". "It would have been better if he had said that he did not want to come, because Serbia still neither recognises what happened in the past, nor the judgements confirming that a genocide took place in Srebrenica," he told the AFP news agency.  The massacre was the worst in Europe since World War Two. It came amid the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia into independent states. Serbia backed Bosnian Serb forces fighting the Muslim-led Bosnian government during the conflict. In July 1995, in what was supposed to have been a UN safe haven, Bosnian Serb forces took control of Srebrenica. They rounded up and killed the men and boys and buried them in mass graves.
Mr Vucic was once a member of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, but now he sees himself as a pro-Western reformer.

^ It's important to remember the massacres that occurred and to make sure they don't  happen again. I hope this visit will be a start to better relations between Serbia and Bosnia (especially the non-Serbian areas.) ^


Putin Complaint

From the MT:
"Lawyers File Complaint Over Putin's Decree on Military Deaths"

A group of Russian lawyers filed a formal complaint with the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in response to a presidential decree on military losses in peacetime, the Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday. The decree, signed earlier in May by President Vladimir Putin, introduced a series of amendments to the Russian law on state secrets, banning information on all casualties sustained during peacetime special operations. According to observers — including a group of legal and military experts interviewed by The Moscow Times earlier in May — it provides confirmation of Russia's direct involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, which the Russian government denies. Ivan Pavlov chairman of the Freedom of Information Fund, is part of the group filing the complaint. "We think that the president didn't have the right to classify such information as state secret because it's beyond his responsibilities," Pavlov was quoted saying by the news agency. Pavlov told Interfax that a presidential decree is a regulatory act and as such cannot limit access to the information. He added that such a restriction can be put in place only by a federal law. The issue of losses among the Russian military first gained prominence last summer, following reports of Russian paratroopers killed in Ukraine. The NGO Committee of Soldiers Mothers requested information on Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine in August 2014, but received no response from military investigators. State Duma Deputy Dmitry Gudkov filed an inquiry with the Defense Ministry in September, but his request for information was dismissed and the claims denounced as rumors. 

^ While it's a good thing that this complaint was officially filed (it shows not everyone has drank the Kool-Aid) I don't see the Russian Supreme Court over-riding Putin's decree.  In a way, Putin admitted to the world that Russia is supplying weapons and troops to the Ukraine when he signed this decree because it specifically mentions special operations and comes when soldier's families have started asking questions about how their loved ones died. The truth always comes out. ^


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Colorado Trip

I was in Colorado for 10 days and since I have been there several times before and done all the touristy things already I didn’t this time around. I stayed after my sister’s house (usually I would stay in a hotel and have my own car – since we flew into/out of Denver.) She has a new puppy (along with her two other dogs) and he (the puppy) kept things interesting. He was always doing something funny or something he shouldn’t be. We even took them to a dog park one day. I have never been to one before as there isn’t one near my mountain. This dog park had a river with a strong waterfall in it – from all the rain they got.) The dogs had a good time in and out of the water.
As I have said I have been to Colorado several times before (Colorado Springs, Denver and the CO-WY line) and never really cared for parts of the state I have seen or most of the people I met. This trip was along the same line. They have the worst drivers (even when you get away from all the military bases) and the people  - especially in Denver – are too wannabe. They are wannabe yuppies and stoned at the same time which makes them look and sound like a bunch of idiots. I am all for medical marijuana, but CO allows everyone to have it and they have become very arrogant about everything. They also don’t know how to build their roads. It rained (with lighting and thunder) numerous times while I was there and with every drop their roads flooded. It was like being in Texas. Many places in the northeast build their roads to have the rain and melting snow run-off the road, but CO doesn’t and so everything floods which makes their already bad drivers even worse.
The only nice thing about Colorado Springs is that most places are open 24 hours. As I said only hospitals, gas stations and some McDonalds are open 24 hours and most restaurants and fast food places are an hour from me. In the Springs they had all the food places you could want – fast food, ethnic food, etc. I made sure to eat at Edelweiss German Restaurant (I’ve been there every trip) and we had a waitress just arrived from Germany (via Austria.) I won’t go through all the places I ate at as there were many. My sister and I did eat at a place called “Sarge’s.” My hamburger was $12 and wasn’t very good – either was the service.   We also ate at Applebees. My state doesn’t use spices and has never been able to do a well-done steak so I try to have some whenever I am travelling someplace else. It turns out that CO couldn’t do a well-done steak either. The manager brought our food out and had us cut into it to make sure it was alright and mine was almost bleeding so I sent it back. 10 minutes later our waiter came by and asked how everything was going. My sister pointed to my invisible plate and he went to “check on it.” He never came back. The manager brought the steak out again about 15 minutes later and I commented that now my sister’s food was cold because of the wait. We used the payment console on the table to pay – I’ve never used one before – and the waiter had to bring the receipt to our table. He clearly had looked at his very low tip and wasn’t happy when he said “Here’s your receipt.” I don’t believe a waiter/waitress should get a big tip if the food and service is bad. Even though it was the kitchen’s fault for my steak the waiter could have taken an interest in finding out when it would be ready or saying he was sorry for the wait – something – but he didn’t so he got a dollar tip. One more place I want to mention is when we ate at the Broadmor Resort. They didn’t have onion rings on their menu, but they had onions and batter and so made them just for us – they were really good and tasted more like a funnel cake than onion rings. We even ordered pizza online and had it delivered. That is something I cannot do here on my mountain (along with using my cell  phone.) Sometimes it is the little things that we miss.
The main reason for my trip was my sister’s graduation. It was held in Denver. Denver has lots of one-way streets and not many signs and so it was difficult to find the entrance to the theater and the parking garage. They only had one door open and it was literally a 15 minute walk from the entrance to where the graduation was held. We had to be there at 9 am to register and the graduation didn’t start until 1 pm. I have to say I am not impressed with the University or the Theater. The graduates had to line up at 11 am and everyone else at 12 pm. We were stuck in line for almost an hour and only moved a few times. Then they only had 2 people taking tickets and hundreds of people pushing and shoving. It wasn’t pleasant. The ceremony itself started out ok. The guest speaker was a former graduate of the University and won a Silver Medal at Sochi. They then started with the Doctor’s Degrees. Most of them had very long, foreign names. Then they did the Master’s Degrees and that was my sister’s group. The University didn’t follow the alphabet and had people on each side of the stage getting their names called. By the time my sister got her diploma and sat down we had been in the theater for 3 hours (not including the hours before the ceremony started) and they still had 400 people getting Bachelor’s Degrees and several getting Associate’s Degrees. We texted my sister after she walked across and we decided to leave early. It was a very long ceremony and would have been 2-3 hours longer if we stayed the whole time. I was glad I could be there though to watch my sister walk across the stage and get her diploma after all the hard work it took her.
After the ceremony who ate at Cracker Barrel (I know I’m back to talking about food) and then we went to work at a Roller Derby Game in Colorado Springs. I have never been to a Derby before. My sister and some friends work security for the Derby through their Krav Maga school. I just tagged along. Most of the women playing in the Derby looked like they could crush me with their pinkie. It was pretty intimidating. I didn’t seem much of the Derby as I was by the front doors most of the night, but I did see a doppelganger of my old college roommate. He was an exact replica.
A few days later my sister and I (and a friend that she went to school with and also works with) went to Denver to see “Wicked” for my sister’s graduation present. My sister has seen that musical in Toronto and I have seen it on Broadway for my birthday a few years back. The friend that came along had never seen it. We had really great seats – with no one in front of us and close to the stage. There was an usher (who looked like one of the Derby women) who was the Camera Nazi and would yell at random people for using their cameras while ignoring the hundreds of other people doing the same thing. Another weird Colorado thing was people walking down an aisle and then climbing over 6-7 rows to get to their seats. I saw at least 10 different people around the theater do that. It was very strange. The show itself was pretty good – almost as good as the Broadway one. It was a show, a good night and a good graduation present.
We went to the Broadmor Resort several times during my stay. We went to see “American Sniper” in their movie theater. It was a very good movie. Even though people should know by the film’s name (ie sniper) it is rated R and yet there were several little kids there. One couple walked in and left their 10 year old while they left. They came back about 45 minutes later and took their kid out. Another family came in after the movie had started and started shining their flashlights on their phones to blind everyone. They then kept moving around the theater, changing seats until they eventually left.
My sister took me one day to hear her former professor give a seminar on the Austrian School of Economics. I didn’t know what it was about until I got there and he started his presentation – but by then it was too late.   He is supposed to be a well-known economics who has worked for the Federal Government as well as being a professor – he had a 10 minute presentation on his credentials – but it felt like he was trying to get us to drink his Kool-Aid. Some of the things he said contradicted his own presentation (ie he kept going on and on about how big Government destroys our economy and then praised Canada’s “big” government for helping its economy in the Great Recession. I took Advanced Economics in college and consider myself fairly educated in economics, government and politics as a whole, but some of the things he was saying were just too much for me. At the end of his presentation they had a Q & A and everyone who asked a question (I didn’t) didn’t make any sense and one guy tried to instigate the professor and get him to say there should be a revolution to topple the corrupt big government. The professor was at least smart enough to not fall for it – especially since the seminar was taped. I was glad when it was over and I could leave.
One thing I miss is meeting international visitors or at least Americans who travel overseas. I don’t get many of both on my mountain, but my sister is friends with many (from places like Croatia, Latvia, Germany, etc.) We had coffee – in one of those yuppie/stoner coffee places in Old Colorado City – with a woman from Latvia and a woman from Germany. The German was very arrogant (apparently she married an American soldier when he was stationed in Germany and is now making him re-enlist so he can be re-stationed in Germany and she can go back there.) She talked just to hear herself talk. It didn’t matter that what she said didn’t make sense or was even true. I tried to once correct her(about flying with her dogs), but then I saw she just liked to hear herself talk and so stopped and paid more attention to the Latvian. The Latvian woman was also married to an American – but he wasn’t a soldier.  They met while she was working in the US. The Latvian was talking about Riga and some of the things she described were exactly like I remember Russia as being-  they were both part of the USSR after all.  It was pretty interesting.
As I have already said this wasn’t my first time to Colorado or to Colorado Springs. It was the first time though I didn’t have to worry about getting sick or taking care of someone sick. That was something odd – not having the worry. I am glad that I went through because it was nice to see my sister and her dogs as well as enjoy some “civilization”