Monday, August 31, 2015

Gulag Plagues

From the MT:
"Plaques Commemorating Gulag Victims Popping Up Around Moscow"

At least seven plaques commemorating Russian citizens sent to gulag forced labor camps under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin have been placed on the Moscow buildings where they last resided before being apprehended by Soviet secret police, the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported Sunday.  The palm-sized plaques have been installed as part of a memorial project known as “Last Address,” and feature the names, occupations, dates of birth and death of the gulag victims, as well as the year they had their names cleared of all charges, or were “rehabilitated,” Novaya Gazeta reported.
An online crowdfunding campaign raised more than 1.5 million rubles ($22,300) in December to have the plaques installed on the former homes of Stalin's victims, and many of the plaques have been requested by surviving family members who remember where the victims were living when they were seized.  The Last Address project is not affiliated with the Russian government, Maxim Kats, a Moscow city councilman said when the project was launched in December. “Thank God they didn't interfere,” he said at the time.  While human rights groups such as the Memorial Human Rights Society — which maintains the database of victims that Last Address is using for the project — continue to draw attention to Stalin's repressions, the Soviet dictator is enjoying renewed popularity in Russia under President Vladimir Putin.  Results of a survey conducted by the independent Levada Center in December showed that over half of Russians believe Stalin played a positive role in Russian history.     The plaques have so far been placed at Sivtsev Vrazhek 21, a residential building in central Moscow, near the Arbatskaya metro station. Two buildings on the same street have also received memorial plaques. Last Address has also installed a plaque on a building at Bolshoi Afanasyevsky Pereulok 33, and two plaques at Ulitsa Palikha 1/13.

^ These plagues need to go up all over Russia, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to remember the innocent men, women and children that were imprisoned, deported and/or murdered by the Communists from 1917-1991. The number of victims of these Communist repressions are well into the millions upon millions of people and so the average person today can not comprehend that each name was an actual person with a family. These plagues put a face and a story behind each name the same way the "stepping stones" plagues are doing for Holocaust victims throughout Europe. There is no reason why people nowadays should have any love for Stalin or the other Communists that carried out the murderous acts. Even the Soviet Communists themselves disclosed Stalin's immense guilt in these acts back in 1956 and even more has come out since the USSR collapsed in 1991. Anyone who worships Stalin or the other Communist dictatorships clearly doesn't have a grasp on reality and has more issues then just love for a mass-murderer. Russia, like every country in the world, needs to fully admit the mistakes of their past and work to make sure the "wrongs" are made public so they won't be repeated. The horrendous acts committed by the repressive Communists should not be honored, but should be made as an example of what should never be allowed to happen ever again. It's unfortunate that Russia is going through tough times today (brought on mostly by their annexation of the Crimea and supporting the ethnic Russian terrorists in eastern Ukraine) and with that economic and political decline has come an official and unofficial love for anything Soviet. History is being rewritten so that people can feel good about themselves and not think too much about their current situation rather than for accuracy. It is made easier by the fact that many of the people who helped lie during Soviet times still have immense power in modern Russia. People who live in a bubble tend to believe everything they are told - even when the original bubble was bust 15 years ago and the full truth was made known back then. ^

Short Coalition

From G & M:
"Anti-Islamic State coalition falling short, Harper says"
Canadian soldiers fighting in the skies over Iraq and Syria may soon find out how much longer the federal Conservatives think they’ll need to be there, the party’s leader said Monday. At an election rally, Stephen Harper said he intends in the coming days to discuss Canada’s contribution to the international coalition fighting Islamic militants in those countries, but suggested the fight is far from over.  “The intervention has had the effect of largely stopping the advance of ISIS, particularly in the north of Iraq and to some degree in other parts of Iraq and Syria — not maybe as much we’d like,” he said. It’s been a year since the plight of thousands of Yazidis trapped on a mountaintop by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant fighters moved the U.S. to start pulling together countries for an air war designed to stop ISIL from taking over more land in Iraq. Canada joined the fight in October 2014 for an initial six-month mission, which was expanded this March for up to a year. Canadian fighters are now also bombing ISIL positions in Syria. Things have improved, Harper told the rally. “A year ago, they were literally on the verge of sweeping over the entire region, so at least that has been halted.” Canada has six CF-18s, an aerial refueller, two surveillance planes and about 600 personnel involved in the air war, as well as 69 special forces training Kurdish fighters. In recent days, according to the Defence Department website, Canadians bombed an ISIL ammunition cache and boats used to transport ammunition, as well as ISIL fighting positions. Canadians have also been accused of killing civilians during a bombing run in January though a U.S.-led investigation found no substance to those allegations. U.S. military information suggests that as of April, ISIL maintained control of about 70 per cent of the space in Iraq it had a year ago, while its influence in Syria remains largely unchanged.
Harper called radical fighters taking over what he called “ungoverned” parts of the world a growing phenomenon. “To protect our country, we are going to have to have a long and sustained strategy with our international partners,” he said.
^ More needs to be done by every country to counter IS. Air strikes have done a little to stop the terrorists, but nothing much has changed on the ground in Iraq and Syria occupied by IS. While we can't simply stop and leave Iraq and Syria alone - since then IS would gain even more land and power and would then focus their attention outside of the Middle East - our current mission needs to be changed so that we aren't just stopping IS' advance, but repelling them from the places they currently occupy. ^

Friday, August 28, 2015

Great Escaper Passes

From the BBC:
"Australian 'Great Escape' survivor dies, aged 101"
One of the last survivors of World War Two's most famous prison break, known as the Great Escape, has died aged 101. Australian Paul Royle was one of 76 airmen who escaped from notorious Nazi Stalag Luft III camp in Nazi Germany in 1944. Their courageous feat was immortalised in the 1963 film The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen. Mr Royle died in a Perth hospital on Sunday after surgery for a fractured hip, local media reported on Friday. His son, Gordon Royle, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp his father lived his life to the fullest, but it was a fall that killed him. A memorial service will be held for Mr Royle in Perth on Wednesday. Seventy-one years ago, the men escaped from the Nazi camp through a secret tunnel.
The Great Escape
  • Stalag Luft III opened in spring 1942, and held air forces personnel only.
  • At maximum it held 10,000 PoWs, covered 59 acres, with five miles (8km) of perimeter fencing.
  • The first successful escape, the "Wooden Horse" escape, took place on the night of 29 October 1943.
  • The "Great Escape" happened on the night of 24 and early hours of 25 March in 1944.
  • Of three tunnels prisoners began digging, only one, "Harry", was completed. It was 102m (336ft) long and 8.5m deep.
Interviewed last year about his wartime experiences, Mr Royle said he had vivid memories of escaping into a snow-covered pine forest. "It was very pleasant and all we saw was great heaps of snow and pine trees. There was snow everywhere, it was cold," he said. With another escapee, he walked through the night and hid in bushes but they were soon recaptured by the Nazis. Only three of the men who escaped reached safety. Of the 73 recaptured, 50 were shot.

^ Everyday we loose veterans who fought in World War 2. They have been called the "Greatest Generation" for what they went through during the Great Depression, World War 2 and the Cold War. Not only was Paul Royle part of that generation, but he was also part of a historical escape from a German POW camp. I think everyone has seen the 1960s film "The Great Escape" that shows what he and other soldiers did and also how the Germans murdered many of those they captured - breaking international law. It takes a lot for someone to escape into occupied, enemy territory (especially if they don't know the language or have any outside help) and the men who escaped from the Stalag Luft camp embody the courage and spirit that the men and women of the Allied forces had to have to stop the horrors imposed on the world by Germany and Japan. ^

Bigot Clerk

From USA Today:
"Ky. clerk asks high court to intervene in marriage case"
A Kentucky county clerk asked the U.S. Supreme Court for permission Friday to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is seeking "asylum for her conscience," her lawyers with the Orlando-based law firm Liberty Counsel wrote in their emergency application to stay enforcement of a federal court ruling requiring the county to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Davis already has lost a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Covington, Ky., after Judge David Bunning ruled that her religious convictions do not excuse her from performing official duties and upholding her oath of office. She has refused to issue licenses to all couples since the June Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, and on Wednesday the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to stay Bunning's injunction against Davis. Justice Elena Kagan, who joined the 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court same-sex marriage case, will hear Davis' request because she is assigned to Kentucky and three other states in the 6th Circuit. But law professor Sam Marcosson of the University of Louisville thinks that Davis' request will be denied, and Dan Canon, lawyer for the two gay and two straight couples who sued Davis when they were denied marriage licenses, previously said he didn't think she would be able to get a stay.  Davis' lawyer, Jonathan D. Christman, wrote that forcing Davis to issue licenses is akin to forcing a person who objects to war into the battlefield or forcing a person against capital punishment to carry out an execution. The firm considers this a first test of the rights of public officials across the USA since the same-sex marriage ruling. On Thursday, James Yates and William Smith Jr., a couple of nearly 10 years, left the Rowan County Courthouse frustrated and angry after staff refused them a marriage license for a third time in recent weeks. The deputy clerk on duty told them that an order from Bunning staying his ruling didn't expire until Monday. "It's just making us want to press more," Yates said. "She can't get away with this because it will open the door for so many other rights to be just thrown away."  Davis, an Apostolic Christian, has said she will not resign her $80,000-a-year job and never will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — even if the Supreme Court denies her request. Davis cannot be fired because she is an elected official. The state Legislature could impeach her, but that is unlikely because many state lawmakers share her beliefs.  The Republican president of the state Senate spoke at a rally last week in support of Davis. The couples like Yates and Smith that sued her could ask Bunning to hold Davis in contempt. That would trigger another court hearing and likely would include testimony from Davis herself. The judge then could order hefty fines or even put her in jail until she complies with the order. They don't like gays, and they don't want them to get married," Yates said. "And they will burn the earth and not let straight people in Rowan County get married either." Smith said Davis is blatantly breaking the law and hiding behind religion to discriminate — the last thing he expected in Rowan County, a county of about 24,000 residents halfway between Lexington, Ky., and Huntington, W.Va., which has always remained open to the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community. "We should be celebrating right now, enjoying our lives together and enjoying the fact that we could spend our lives together and have it recognized by our country," Smith said. "Now we are just kind of on nerves."  Yates and Smith said they will try again next week after the temporary stay expires. However, Yates said even if judges continue to rule in favor of the couples, Davis and her lawyers will find ways to stall. "They are ignoring this ruling," he said. "Why would they follow the next one?" A small group has protested Davis' policy outside the Rowan County Courthouse daily, and demonstrators say they are planning a large rally Saturday on the courthouse lawn.  Rachelle Bombe, one of the protesters, predicted that Davis "will not stop. She is the terminator." "A lot to people are being hurt," Bombe said. "There are so many wonderful couples that want to be married, and they can't get married. And some of them have waited an entire lifetime to get married, so it is very sad."
 ^ This is stupid and simply allowing open discrimination, not to mention knowingly disobeying a Federal law (and as we all know a Federal law supersedes a State one.) This county clerk is a bigot plain and simple. The US Supreme Court - the highest court in the whole country) already declared that all 50 states, DC, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands along with the Federal Government has to perform and recognize same-sex marriage. The only US territory where this ruling doesn't apply is in American Samoa. With that said, if you blatantly disobey a law (whether you agree with it or not) makes you guilty of breaking that law. Even if you don't do it blatantly  - -if you don't know the law - you still can't claim ignorance when you break the law. A government official (elected or not) has the responsibility to obey all the local, State and Federal laws within their jurisdiction. If they do not obey the law then they should face the consequences that everyone else would have to face. They can  not abuse their position to impose their own agenda on other people. If this clerk refused to marry a mixed-race couple (as so many in the South did in the 1960s even when the Federal Government said it was illegal to do so) then the whole country would be up in arms about it. But, unfortunately, most Americans haven't paid any attention to gays marrying since the Supreme Court decision even though there are many such bigoted officials around the country, like this one in KY, who openly defy and break the law. I really hope she gets impeached put in jail and replaced so that all the others breaking the law see what will happen to them is the continue. No one is forcing her to occupy her position of "power" and if she doesn't personally agree with same-sex marriage or equality then that's her own demon to deal with, but she should not be allowed to impose her own will on others in an official capacity - especially after the decision has already been made final. ^

Green Means Go

From the BBC:
"Iraq 'to open Baghdad Green Zone'"
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered officials to open up to civilians the heavily-fortified area of Baghdad known as the Green Zone. The 10km (four miles) sq area housing government buildings became off-limits to the public as a security measure in the wake of the 2003 US occupation. It is the latest in a series of steps by Mr Abadi to ease sectarian tensions and crack down on corruption. Baghdad has seen weeks of protests over poor services and abuses of power. Earlier this month, in a rare show of unity, the Iraqi parliament backed Mr Abadi's programme to abolish top government posts and cut spending. On Friday, the prime minister issued instructions to lift restrictions on the Green Zone. It is not clear when the plan will be implemented. The compound, in the Karkh district on the west bank of the Tigris, is surrounded by concrete walls and heavily guarded by checkpoints and tanks.It houses former palaces of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and was the administrative headquarters of the US occupation authorities. Several foreign embassies, including those of the US and UK, are situated there. Most Iraqis have been excluded from the Green Zone unless they have special permission, and large bribes have been paid to get round stringent entry procedures, according to AFP news agency.   The zone has been targeted by bombings and rockets over the years, and the fortification measures were aimed at making it more secure, although attacks in Baghdad are still commonplace. Mr Abadi also ordered the removal of barriers and checkpoints set up on main roads and sidestreets in Baghdad and elsewhere by prominent figures and militias.  The order to lift the restrictions is part of a series of measures to defuse tensions and root out corruption. A panel will also be set up to recover state property appropriated by elites which are found to have been illegally obtained. In recent weeks, thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets in Baghdad and other cities to protest against the failure to provide basic services and against corruption. They have been backed by Iraq's preeminent Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and powerful Shia militia leader, Moqtada Sadr.

^ This is a pretty dumb move to do right now especially considering that IS occupies most of Iraq and has bombed large areas of Baghdad and killed many in that city. The only thing the Iraqi Government is doing by giving access to regular Baghdadis is opening the Green Zone to even more attacks which will probably force the embassies and foreigners there to leave making Baghdad and the rest of Iraq worse off then it already is. ^

10: Katrina

From the BBC:
"Hurricane Katrina: George Bush in New Orleans 10 years on"
Former US President George Bush has returned to New Orleans 10 years on since Hurricane Katrina, a crisis his administration was criticised for at the time over its slow response.  In a speech at a secondary school, he said he would never forget the images of "misery and ruin". It comes a day after his successor, Barack Obama, said New Orleans was "moving on" from the disaster. Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people and displaced one million. It was the most expensive natural disaster in US history, causing destruction along the Gulf coast from Florida to Texas. But the city of New Orleans, in Louisiana, bore the brunt. George Bush's administration's slow response to the disaster remains a source of deep resentment in the city.
 ^ People go on and on about all the suffering in New Orleans by the people who refused to evacuate even when it was made mandatory. Of course the mayor at the time didn't do a great job of informing the people even though there was plenty of warning that Katrina was going to be a massive storm when it was still by Florida. If you are told to evacuate for any reason (ie flood, hurricane, power failure, terrorism, wildfire, volcano, snow storm, etc) and you refuse to leave then you are on your own. I remember the government officials in New Orleans telling people that if they stay they would be on their own for some time. People decided to stay anyways and the storm was as massive as expected so of course it was difficult to get supplies and troops into the city afterwards and people out. The only people I feel sorry for that stayed in New Orleans before Katrina hit are the elderly and the disabled. Both groups are the most vulnerable and are often overlooked. I'm not saying President Bush handled everything right after the storm, but in that one respect you can't blame him or any other government official (city State or Federal)  - - not even for what happened in the Super Dome. People need to learn that they can be advised what they should do and they if go against that advice then they have to deal with the consequences and the only person to blame is themselves. ^

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Open Entertainment

From Disability Scoop:
"Theaters, Museums Increasingly Catering To Special Needs"
When the lights dim and a play starts, all eyes are on the stage. But what if you can’t see it? How do people who are blind experience a live theater show? A museum exhibit? “The biggest problem we face is that many people assume people who are blind can’t or don’t experience theater or other sources of entertainment,” said Chris Danielsen, spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind. “And that is not correct.” Yes, they can hear the actors, their motions — the pouring of a glass, the shot of a gun. And they’ve been going to live shows for a long time, Danielsen said. But Chicago theater is making the experience better. Two hours before showtime on a recent morning, pieces of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s “The Little Mermaid” production were strewn about the theater’s lobby. Ariel’s long red locks. Flounder the guppy’s turquoise and yellow “fin” mohawk. Even the tough snakeskin boots of Sebastian, the crab who conducts. And 3-year-old Lincoln Rybak was running his fingers over all of it — tapping, squishing, squeezing. Lincoln is legally blind, and his parents were participating in the theater’s touch tour, an opportunity for patrons with low vision to feel the textured costumes, explore the set and meet the characters before the show. Touch tours are not new to the city — Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater adopted a program in the 1990s, said Evan Hatfield, Steppenwolf Theatre’s director of audience experience. But in the past five years, the city’s cultural scene has blossomed with accessibility. He listed 21 local theaters that offer programs like touch tours, audio description, sign language interpretation and live captioning for productions. And that number is growing. Lincoln’s favorite piece was a fantastic sea urchin headpiece; his little hands were grasping the flexible, floppy spines that poke out from its base. He was at a standstill as a group of about 20 children and adults who are blind weaved through the props with family. “Whoaaaaaaaa,” he howled, tugging the thick spines as Jason Harrington, the theater’s education outreach manager who heads accessibility programs, explained each piece. Growth in accessibility is not limited to theaters. Eleven other Chicago institutions including the Lincoln Park Zoo, the History Museum and the Shedd Aquarium pledged to make accessibility better in many ways after the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in July, said Christena Gunther, founder of the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium, a group that works as a network for cultural accessibility programs. Ideas include offering more programs, hiring full-time accessibility managers and finding new ways to reach those with disabilities. “Accessibility is not just about having a ramp,” Gunther said. “Everybody’s different, everybody has different needs. Accessibility never reaches an ending point, and that’s the challenge but also the fun part.” While a touch tour undoubtedly “enhances the experience,” said Danielsen of the federation for the blind, so does audio description, an explanation of scenes and set changes that are transmitted live to patrons who are blind, through headsets, while the show unfolds on stage. Chicago Shakespeare and about 20 other local theaters offer it already or plan to soon. It’s an accommodation that requires training, finessing and time to perfect, but when done well it can make the play come alive in a new way. Like the beginning of “The Little Mermaid,” when Ariel begins to sing the opening, “A World Above” — a beautiful song, but even better when you know a giant blue fabric like the surface of the ocean is rippling around her as she rises to hip level from beneath the stage, like she’s treading water. Deborah Lewis, vice president of California-based Audio Description Solutions, trained audio describers in Chicago a few weeks ago and said “some people get it, some people don’t,” but here “everyone got it.” If Chicago theaters are budding, the city’s museums are still planting the seeds. The Art Institute of Chicago offers a touch gallery — a free area where anyone can feel four small sculptures, said Lucas Livingston, the museum’s assistant director of senior programs. But those four pieces are only tiny slice of the artwork offered in the building. The Art Institute also hosts tours where patrons can handle a limited number of 3-D-printed duplicates of objects on display, like plastic copies of ancient mugs, dolls and instruments. Those are helpful not only for the blind but for people with dementia, Livingston said, so they can feel and better engage with each piece. “Everybody loves to learn through touch.” The museum also has five small 3-D-printed duplicates of paintings — helpful, tactile representations of the art on the wall from different genres, since handling can damage original paintings. “For theater, you have the luxury of knowing who’s coming in advance and being able to plan for that, versus at a museum, people are usually just dropping in and you might not know what people are coming to see,” said Gunther of the cultural consortium. “The way you can make your institution accessible varies depending on what type of organization you are.” The Art Institute is able to plan for its monthly sign-language tour, which garners about 60 patrons, Livingston said. Other museums offer audio tours and guided tours — options that cover the bases but do not yet go above and beyond, Gunther said. But they all share an interest in improving. “I think we’re better off than five, 10 years ago,” she said, but “this is an ongoing effort. There’s always something new and different you can offer at your institution.” To the left of the Shakespeare stage, a pair of sign-language interpreters enthusiastically signed the characters’ dialogue — another layer of accessibility for patrons at the show.
^ It's great to see more and more people and places working to help integrate a wider range of people (whether disabled or not) so that everyone will have a chance to enjoy the finer things in life. Chicago seems to be on the right ball and hopefully more cities around the world will follow suit. ^

Landmark Deal

From the BBC:
"Kosovo and Serbia sign 'landmark' agreements"
Kosovo and Serbia have signed a series of agreements in key areas, in a major step towards normalising ties. Serbs in northern Kosovo will enjoy greater rights through one of the deals, while Kosovo gains its own international dialling code in another.  The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, who mediated, called the agreements "landmark achievements". Kosovo split from Serbia in 2008, a decade on since a conflict between Serb forces and Kosovan Albanian rebels. A Nato bombing campaign against Belgrade effectively forced Serbia to cede the state, but it has not officially recognised Kosovo. Both sides aspire to join the EU, which for Serbia depends on implementing a 2013 EU-brokered agreement on normalising ties with its southern neighbour.  Under the April 2013 Brussels Agreement, Serbia did not recognise Kosovo's independence but agreed to co-operate in ways that would allow it to operate more like a sovereign state.   Progress since then has been patchy. Elections played a part. For several months last year Kosovo did not have a government, and the Albanian nationalist opposition opposed any compromises with Serbia.  But finally talks have regained their momentum. Both sides say they have got what they wanted from the latest deal.  Kosovo's foreign minister claimed it was a de facto recognition of independence. Serbia's prime minister said it ensured representation for ethnic-Serbs in Kosovo. It should also mean Serbia can now move forward with its negotiations to join the EU.   "This is a big achievement for the whole of Serbia and it means there are no longer any obstacles, nothing stands on Serbia's way towards Europe," said Serb Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. Kosovo Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci was quoted as saying that Serbia had "in a way recognised Kosovo as an independent state". Kosovo has a majority Albanian population, but under the agreement 10 areas with large Serb populations will be able to manage issues such as the local economy and education. Mr Vucic said the Community of Serb Municipalities would have an assembly, president and a flagThe deal will also put an end to the inconvenience for Kosovo's mobile phone users of using Monaco or Slovenia international codes. Serbian-majority areas in the north will still be able to use Serbian calling codes. The two sides also agreed on how to share the symbolic Mitrovica Bridge that separates Albanian and Serb communities in the north.

^ This is a step in the right direction for both Serbia and Kosovo. Hopefully the two countries will be able to fix the other issues and move on to bigger and better things. ^

Bordering Walls

"Tallinn plans 2-meter high, 108-kilometer long wall on its border with Russia"
Estonia intends to build a fence along its border with Russia to provide protection against border violations, according to Ukraine Today.
The fence will be complete with barbed wire, video cameras, and drones, covering two-thirds of the Estonian-Russian border, according to the Russian-language Latvia-based Meduza ezine, Ukraine Today reports. Despite high cost (EUR 71 million), Estonia is boosting its security measures amid Russian aggression in the region as Moscow continues with its missile, ground, and air exercises near Eastern Europe, according to RFE/RL.
^  Border fences/walls are being built round the world (ie Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Ukraine, the US and now Estonia.) While they weren't stop all forms of border incursions (ie an invading military, illegal immigrants, drug smuggling, etc) it is one more step that will help to secure a country's borders. These fortifications are being built to stop terrorists and criminals from having easy access into another country. ^


Disney Suit

From Disability Scoop:
"Disney Doesn’t Want Executive Questioned In ADA Suits"
Walt Disney Company and its attorneys are battling a request to have one of its top executives sit for a deposition in controversial lawsuits over access to theme park attractions for people with disabilities. Tom Staggs, currently chief operating officer of Walt Disney Co., was formerly the division chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, when the theme parks adopted a new policy on disability access in 2013. Dozens of families with children with autism have sued, alleging that children with cognitive disabilities don’t have the patience required to wait for a certain ride — even if they are not waiting in line. While Disney has generally declined to comment on the lawsuits, it has argued in court filings that it went to great lengths to provide service to its guests with disabilities. An attorney representing many of those families, Andy Dogali, recently filed a request to depose Staggs in the litigation. In response, Disney is seeking a judge’s order protecting Staggs from the request. The cases are filed in Orlando federal court. An attorney for Disney, Jeremy White of Kaye Sholer, explained the company’s position in an email to Dogali, saying that Staggs has “no unique personal knowledge of the relevant facts at issue in this case, his deposition is improper and unwarranted. Any information you plan to seek from Mr. Staggs can be obtained through less intrusive methods of discovery such as serving interrogatories or deposing lower-level employees.” Disney attorneys said in a court filing that “every second of Mr. Staggs’ time is valuable and sitting for a deposition is a distraction that courts seek to prevent.” Staggs already filed a declaration for the court, which states that “from time to time Mr. Staggs received information about DAS (Disability Access Service) from the group responsible for its design, implementation and administration, and made suggestions about points specifically drawn to his attention.” Disney attorneys have said they are happy to make available other employees with more direct knowledge of the programs. Such efforts to shield a top executive from a lengthy deposition are not unusual for large corporations. Disney has denied any discrimination or violation, and said it prides itself on accessibility throughout its facilities, among other things. It has also made these points in court:
• The company established a new department, Services for Guests with Disabilities, and provides a “full array of services ranging from guidebooks that assist guests with disabilities to policies and procedures that enhance their experience at the various theme parks and resorts.”
• Plaintiffs in the case, or the people with disabilities, preferred the previous program because it allowed them to enter rides directly and immediately without waiting.
• The complaints allegedly fail to prove that the Disability Access Service program hasn’t accommodated their disability.
Disney ended its previous program, the Guest Assistance Card, because the older program was abused by wealthy people who hired guests with disabilities to take them to the front of a line. The new program, called Disability Access Service, no longer allows people with disabilities to skip waiting, but it allows them to make a reservation in advance and avoid standing in line until that time.
The lawsuits cite “meltdown behaviors” that sometimes force children and their parents to leave the parks.

^ The way Disney is acting throughout this case just reaffirms it's arrogance. The main guy who overseas the Parks is "too expensive" and important to deal with the discrimination case against the Parks that fell under his watch. It would be beneath him to have to answer any claims about something he was in-charge of. That is just plain stupid and makes me believe there is more to all of this than meets the eye. I just don't see the Disney Parks as being the "happiest place on Earth" --- when they clearly don't take discrimination claims against them seriously. If they didn't do anything wrong then there's no reason the Parks and the Executive shouldn't make themselves fully-accessible (pun-intended.) ^

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Canadian eTA

From the Government of Canada's Website:
"Apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)"

Answer a few questions to make sure that you need an eTA and then apply for one online. The eTA is electronically linked to your passport and is valid for five years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. Applying for an eTA is a simple and inexpensive ($7 Canadian) online process that will take just a few minutes. Most eTA-eligible applicants will get their authorization within minutes of submitting the online form. You must have a valid passport, an email address and a credit card to complete the online form. You can only apply for one person at a time. For example, for a family of three people, you will need to complete and submit the form three times.
In December 2013, the Canadian government announced intention to introduce an electronic travel authorization system (eTA) similar to the US Electronic System for Travel Authorization as part of an action plan to establish a common approach to screening visa-exempt foreign nationals. Privacy Commissioner of Canada expressed concern over the plan. An eTA will become mandatory for all visa-free eligible nationals (except US citizens) arriving by air beginning on March 15, 2016. Travelers are able to apply early as of August 1, 2015. eTA won't be necessary for overland entry or entry by sea, but solely for arriving by air. Citizens of the United States and citizens of France who are resident in Saint Pierre and Miquelon are exempt, as well as Permanent Residents of Canada.  Visitors apply through Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada website and are required to pay a cost recovery fee. Visitors have to provide biographic details, passport and background information that is otherwise required in visa applications. Other required data includes information on additional citizenships, available funds, employment information and contact details including residential address. Applicants also have to answer questions about their health, immigration history and on any convictions they may have had in the past. There are no questions on travel plans in Canada. Following a risk assessment of the applicant, an eTA valid for multiple entries to Canada over a period of up to five years should be issued.

^ Canada is following in the footsteps of Australia and the United States and requiring people to pay to give their personal information before they travel. Even though all three countries claim this isn't a visa it really is. If you have to pay for it then it's a visa. Plain and simple. Of course it's not that expensive ($7 CD for Canada, $20 AD for Australia and $14 US for the United States) but even if you call it something else it doesn't diminish what it really is ("a rose by any other name is still a rose.") Australia has two different online systems. One (for citizens of the EU) is free and the other (for Canadians, Americans, etc) you have to pay $20. The one for EU citizens isn't an online while the other one is. I'm not saying these countries should get rid of their online systems, but they could at least call it by it's correct name. ^

France Rewards

From the BBC:
"France train shooting: Hollande awards Legion d'honneur"
Three Americans and a Briton who foiled a suspected terror attack on a train have received France's top honour from President Francois Hollande. Mr Hollande presented Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Briton Chris Norman with the Legion d'honneur at the Elysee Palace. Two other unnamed passengers will receive the honour at a later date. The passengers overpowered a suspected radical Islamist on a high-speed train bound for Paris on Friday.  French authorities are questioning the suspect, 25-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani.  Mr Hollande pinned medals on the chests of the four passengers at a ceremony in Paris on Monday morning. "We are here to honour four men who, thanks to their bravery, managed to save lives," he said. "In the name of France, I would like to thank you. The whole world admires your bravery. It should be an example to all of us and inspire us. You put your lives at risk in order to defend freedom."  Mr Hollande said: "A terrorist decided to commit an attack. He had enough weapons and ammunition to carry out real carnage, and that's what he would have done if you hadn't tackled him at a risk to your own lives. "You gave us a lesson in courage, in will, and thus in hope." He added: "Faced with the evil called terrorism there is a good, that is humanity. You are the incarnation of that."  This was France's formal thank you to the men who set such an extraordinary example by their courage on Friday's train. The government here is making a big deal of the four heroes (plus their anonymous French helper) - and for good reason. If the jihadist threat is to remain with us - and nothing suggests that it will stop - the behaviour of individuals towards the imminence of violence could become a crucial factor. If more people are willing to risk their lives by standing up to fight, then that will shift the psychological battle in favour of our societies. Governments know this - so do all they can to honour the people who make a stand
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and the US Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, attended the ceremony, along with the head of the French rail firm, SNCF. The Legion d'honneur was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. The award is divided into five categories and the passengers are receiving the chevalier, the most commonly awarded.  A French-American passenger who was wounded in the attack, and a French citizen who first encountered the gunman and tried to overpower him, will receive the honour later. Mr Hollande named the French-American as 51-year-old Mark Moogalian, who is still in hospital. The other man wishes to remain anonymous. The president said he wished to pay tribute to both of them for their bravery.
^ It's important to honor ordinary people who take action and protect others. Even if they were soldiers they weren't on duty and could have just saved themselves. It's also important to note that this isn't the first time in recent years that transportation (especially trains) have been targeted in Europe by terrorists. France, Germany and the UK have large Muslim populations and while the majority of them are innocent there is a growing trend for them to join IS with the belief that they will be trained and then come "home" to commit terrorist acts. I know many people say that there's no way to check people getting onto trains, buses, trams, etc - - that it would inconvenience many people everyday, but at least they would be alive. ^

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Black Ribbon Day!

From Wikipedia:
"European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism"
The European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, known as the Black Ribbon Day in some countries, which is observed on 23 August, is the international remembrance day for victims of totalitarian ideologies, specifically communism/Stalinism, fascism and Nazism. It was designated by the European Parliament in 2008/2009 as "a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, to be commemorated with dignity and impartiality," and has been observed annually by the bodies of the European Union since 2009. The European Parliament's 2009 resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism, co-sponsored by the European People's Party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, The Greens–European Free Alliance, and the Union for Europe of the Nations, called for its implementation in all of Europe. The establishment of 23 August as an international remembrance day for victims of totalitarianism was also supported by the 2009 Vilnius Declaration of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. 23 August was chosen to coincide with the date of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression pact between the USSR and Nazi Germany which contained a protocol dividing Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland into designated German and Soviet Spheres of Influence. The treaty was described by the European Parliament's president Jerzy Buzek in 2010 as "the collusion of the two worst forms of totalitarianism in the history of humanity." The remembrance day originated in protests held in western cities against Soviet crimes and occupation in the 1980s, initiated by Canadian refugees from countries occupied by the Soviet Union, and that culminated in The Baltic Way, a major demonstration during the Revolutions of 1989 that contributed to the liberation of the Baltic states. The purpose of the Day of Remembrance is to preserve the memory of the victims of mass deportations and exterminations, while promoting democratic values with the aim of reinforcing peace and stability in Europe.  23 August is also officially recognised by Canada and the United States, where it is known as Black Ribbon Day.
Observance in the EU:
The International Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism has been observed in Sweden since 2008, with participation from members of the government, including Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
On 18 June 2009, the Parliament of Estonia amended the Law on holidays and memorials, and adopted 23 August as the Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism.
On 17 July 2009, the Parliament of Latvia adopted 23 August as the Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, under a proposal of the Civic Union.
Lithuania in 2009 officially renamed "Black Ribbon Day" (23 August) to "European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, and Day of the Baltic Way". On this day, as on other days of mourning, Lithuanian flags are displayed outside all public buildings decorated with black ribbons.
On 19 November 2009, under a proposal of the center-right Blue Coalition, the Bulgarian Parliament officially declared 23 August the Day of Commemoration of the Victims of the Crimes Committed by Communist and other Totalitarian Regimes and the remembrance day was officially observed for the first time in 2010.
In 2011, the government of Croatia proposed that Croatia adopt the European Day of Remembrance of Victims of All Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes, to be commemorated on 23 August. The government sent its recommendation for urgent parliamentary procedure, stating that the new memorial day is in accordance with the European practice that marks 23 August as the day of remembrance of victims of Stalinism and Nazism. On 23 August 2011, Croatia marked the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism for the first time. Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor emphasised: "We must remember all victims equally."
In 2011, the European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of All Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes was officially commemorated in Poland for the first time, during Poland's EU presidency
In 2011, the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism was commemorated by the government of Hungary for the first time. A government spokesman said that "youth growing up in western Europe should learn what it means to be a victim of Communism," adding that there is "little difference" between "national and international Socialism [...] both involve the same destruction, and a basic characteristic for both is inhumanity."
On 8 August 2012, the Slovenian government adopted a resolution proclaiming 23 August European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of All Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes
Observance of Black Ribbon Day outside the EU:
In 2009, the House of Commons of Canada unanimously adopted 23 August as Black Ribbon Day, the national day of remembrance in Canada of the victims of Stalinism and Nazism. The resolution was introduced by Liberal MP Bob Rae and co-sponsored by Borys Wrzesnewskyj.
On 21 July 2010, in a unanimous vote, the Parliament of Georgia instituted the Soviet Occupation Day on 25 February and declared 23 August the Day of Memory of Victims of Totalitarian Regimes.
United States:
On 16 July 2013, Member of Congress John Shimkus introduced the resolution "H.Res. 302: Expressing support for designation of August 23 as Black Ribbon Day to recognize the victims of Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes," proposing that the United States Congress adopts Black Ribbon Day "to recognize the victims of Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes." On 21 May 2014, the United States Congress adopted a resolution supporting "the designation of Black Ribbon Day to recognize the victims of Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes" and to "remember and never forget the terror millions of citizens in Central and Eastern Europe experienced for more than 40 years by ruthless military, economic, and political repression of the people through arbitrary executions, mass arrests, deportations, the suppression of free speech, confiscation of private property, and the destruction of cultural and moral identity and civil society, all of which deprived the vast majority of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe of their basic human rights and dignity, separating them from the democratic world by means of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall," and stating that "the extreme forms of totalitarian rule practiced by the Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes led to premeditated and vast crimes committed against millions of human beings and their basic and inalienable rights on a scale unseen before in history."
 Observance by other entities:
On 8 August 2011, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People approved the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, stating that "the Crimean Tatar people [...] suffered the crimes, committed by the Communist regime of the USSR in the 20th century admitted as a genocide
^ It's important to remember the millions upon millions of innocent men, women and children that were victims of both the Nazis and the Communists. While the Nazi crimes ended in 1945 when World War 2 ended, the horrible Communist crimes lasted until 1991 through the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Most Nazis were not punished or imprisoned for their crimes and the same is true with the Communists. The best way to remember both of their crimes and their victims is to bring justice to those that committed the crimes. Rather then allowing former Nazis and Communists to receive government pensions and live and work openly they should be imprisoned, tried and banned from any decent job (government or private sector.) ^

Blindly Following

From the MT:
"For Russians, Loyalty to Putin Is Loyalty to State"
The continuing deterioration of the economic situation, falling incomes and rising prices are increasingly affecting Russians. A new survey released by state-run pollster VTsIOM reveals recent changes in consumer behavior. The number of respondents in July who have switched to buying less expensive foods and products has risen sharply from 38 percent in January 2015 to 53 percent in July, and the number of those foregoing needed purchases has climbed from 39 percent to 52 percent over the same period. However, the continued devaluation of the ruble coupled with the drop in oil prices has not led to a serious backlash among the people. According to VTsIOM, only 10 percent of Russians hold their savings in foreign currency.  And according to the Public Opinion Foundation, of the 35 percent of Russians who have any savings at all, 92 percent keep them in rubles. The Russian people prefer using rubles, whether or not they have savings. And although last December's devaluation of the ruble and the subsequent worsening of the situation drove home a basic lesson in economics, most Russians still react not to the price of oil or the ruble exchange rate, but to the prices in stores and the cost of basic utilities. They act accordingly, by reducing consumption and stocking up on reserves of inexpensive staple foods. In other words, they switch into "survival mode." After all, how can ordinary citizens influence the price of oil or the policies of an administration that places the country's economy at the mercy of world oil prices? The Russian people have little concern for those things as long as they feel a pride in their country that is not based on reality. The latest Levada Center poll concerning the credibility of the authorities shows that only 4 percent of Russians believe that government officials always tell the truth, 13 percent that they generally tell the truth, 34 percent that "they sometimes tell the truth and sometimes lie" and 41 percent that they almost always lie. However, it is one thing if ordinary citizens are not receiving factual information, but it is quite another if the president has no access to the truth. Fully 56 percent of respondents believe that President Vladimir Putin does not receive complete and factual information from his advisors, while only 31 percent hold that he does. This is the classic "good tsar, bad boyars" phenomenon that sociologists have long observed. What is amazing is how the "good tsar's" ratings have skyrocketed even while the "bad boyars" remain widely unpopular. According to this logic, Vladimir Putin has raised Russia from its knees and restored its status as a great power without even knowing half of what is actually going on in the country. It turns out that he is practically working blind. Levada Center social and cultural research department head Alexei Levinson explains that Putin enjoys record popularity ratings because the people are actually expressing their loyalty to Russia, of which he is the symbol.  That symbol, or figurehead, does not need to be informed. And because the attitude "I am for Russia!" does not correspond to any particular reality, no rational factor such as lying boyars or the realization that the country is in the midst of an economic crisis can influence it. But what is important is that citizens are psychologically prepared for the crisis — either because they, like the president, are hoping for a "quick recovery" as happened in 2009, or now have something for which they are willing to sacrifice — in contrast to the situation in 1991 or 1998.
^ No matter how often I visit or live in Russia or how often I meet Russians I don't think I, or anyone, can truly understand their mentality. Such is the case here. I guess if I had generations of the same fears, paranoia and hardships I would think the same as the ordinary Russian. For centuries the Russian people were taught that the Czars were sent from God and not to question them - so they didn't (until 1917 that is.) Then for just over 70 years that blind faith in the Czar was changed to the Communist Party and leaders like Lenin and Stalin. That only changed when their country collapsed in 1991. Then the blind faith to the Communist Party changed to the new "democrats" and now to Putin. That is the history of the Russian people in a nut-shell. The average Russian would rather be told what to do rather than have to decide things for themselves. They are not a stupid people. They know when they are being lied to and they know how to lie. They tend to always believe that foreigners are out to get them (despite the facts) even when they are the ones doing the invading and occupying (ie Eastern Europe from 1945-1991 and now the Crimea.) The poll above says that the majority of Russians believe Putin doesn't have all the facts on domestic and international goings-on and so can't be held accountable for what Russia does at home and abroad. I may not understand the whole Russian mentality, but I do understand that what Russians say in public (to government officials, foreigners and friends) and what they actually believe and say to their families are usually two different things. I do not honestly believe the average Russian believes the official statements about their economy or the Ukrainian War, but I do believe they are simply using their centuries-old tradition of surviving. They are following the saying: We will wait and see" rather than do anything themselves. That mentality is partly the reason why Russians tend to look much older than any other nationality. In general, I have found that Russians 30 and older tend to look 15-20 years older than their actual age. That is in part to all the survival modes they have had to deal with throughout their lives. No one should have to struggle to make ends-meat, but the Russians seem to take pride that they have always had to do that and probably always have to. I don't see that or the blind faith ending anytime soon. ^

Friday, August 21, 2015

US Allowed Invasion

"U.S. advised Ukraine to give way as Russia invaded - Bloomberg"
The White House advised Kyiv to avoid military confrontation with Moscow, when the Russian forces took over Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in early 2014, according to an article by Josh Rogin and Eli Lake published by Bloomberg View.   The White House's message to Kyiv was advice, not an order, and was based on a variety of factors, reads the article. There was a lack of clarity about what Russia was really doing on the ground. The Ukrainian military was in no shape to confront the Russian Spetznas (special operations) forces that were swarming on the Crimean peninsula. Moreover, the Ukrainian government in Kyiv was only an interim administration until the country would vote in elections a few months later. Other European governments sent Kyiv a similar message, say the authors. But the main concern was Russian President Vladimir Putin. The White House feared that if the Ukrainian military fought in Crimea, it would give Putin justification to launch greater military intervention in Ukraine, using similar logic to what Moscow employed in 2008 when Putin invaded large parts of Georgia in response to a pre-emptive attack by the Tbilisi government. Russian forces occupy two Georgian provinces to this day. Looking back today, many experts and officials point to the decision not to stand and fight in Crimea as the beginning of a Ukraine policy based on the assumption that avoiding conflict with Moscow would temper Putin's aggression. But that was a miscalculation. Almost two years later, Crimea is all but forgotten, Russian-backed separatist forces are in control of two large Ukrainian provinces, and the shaky cease-fire between the two sides is in danger of collapsing. When Russian special operations forces, military units and intelligence officers seized Crimea, it surprised the U.S. government. Intelligence analysts had briefed Congress 24 hours before the stealth invasion, saying the Russian troop buildup on Ukraine's border was a bluff. Ukraine's government -- pieced together after President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kyiv for Russia following civil unrest -- was in a state of crisis. The country was preparing for elections and its military was largely dilapidated and unprepared for war.  There was a debate inside the Kyiv government as well. Some argued the nation should scramble its forces to Crimea to respond. As part of that process, the Ukrainian government asked Washington what military support the U.S. would provide. Without quick and substantial American assistance, Ukrainians knew, a military operation to defend Crimea could not have had much chance for success.
Ever since the annexation of Crimea in March, 2014, there have been a group of senior officials inside the administration who have been advocating unsuccessfully for Obama to approve lethal aid to the Ukrainian military. These officials have reportedly included Secretary of State John Kerry, his top Europe official, Victoria Nuland, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and General Philip Breedlove, the supreme allied commander for NATO. Obama has told lawmakers in private meetings that his decision not to arm the Ukrainians was in part due to a desire to avoid direct military confrontation with Russia. The U.S. has pledged a significant amount of non-lethal aid to the Ukrainian military, but delivery of that aid has often been delayed. Meanwhile, Russian direct military involvement in Eastern Ukraine has continued at a high level. But for the Ukrainians, Russia's continued military intervention in their country is an existential issue, and they are pleading for more help. While many Ukrainians agreed in early 2014 that fighting back against Russia was too risky, that calculation has now changed. The Ukrainian military is fighting Russian forces elsewhere, and Putin is again using the threat of further intervention to scare off more support from the West. If help doesn't come, Putin may conclude he won't pay a price for meddling even further. 
^ Of course Obama - and I'm sure other world leaders  -  told the Ukraine not to do a thing against Russia invading their country. The whole  world stood by as Russia was allowed to take control of the Crimea - -they even admitted to deciding on the invasion, occupation and annexation of the Crimea long before the Crimeans even "voted" for independence. That left the Ukraine and the Ukrainian people all alone to not only deal with loosing the Crimea but also to fight the ethnic Russian terrorists who are supplied with Russian weapons and soldiers. The US, the EU, the UN, NATO and the majority of the world has stood-by for far too long in appeasing Russia. While we have sanctions against Russia and are slowly started to train the Ukrainian military it is very little very late. Obama has shown he has no idea about international politics or affairs. That was made very clear when he removed US troops from Iraq which allowed IS to gain most of that country and also Syria. It is sad to say that the Ukrainian people will probably have to wait a long time for any real help from any other country. The US has to wait and see if we will get a new President who is capable of dealing with domestic and international affairs. The EU will not be of any help because they are dealing with an implosion of their own. It is not only Greece that has economic issues and needs more bailouts but other member-countries as well. Because the US and the EU aren't able or willing to do the right thing and give the Ukraine the protection it deserves it is back to the ordinary Ukrainian to continue defending their country against outside invaders. ^

Slow To Comply

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Military to sponsor same-sex spouses in Germany"
U.S. military commands can now extend benefits to same-sex spouses of American servicemembers and civilians with orders to Germany, opening access to official passports, visas and housing allowances. A Department of Defense spokesman confirmed Thursday that Germany has been added to a list of 40 countries where commands can sponsor same-sex spouses for benefits designed to allow military families to stay together during a move. More than 40,000 military personnel live and work in the country. Germany’s exclusion from the list has puzzled families and gay-rights advocates for more than a year. Since 2001, the country has recognized same-sex “life partnerships,” a status that resembles gay marriage in other countries and offers many of the same benefits. Yet other countries made the military’s command sponsorship list long ago. Approval for sponsorships in Italy, which prohibits gay marriage and domestic partnerships, was approved last summer. The military asked its combatant commands to explore the issue in their respective theaters after the military began recognizing same-sex marriages in 2013, following partial repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act by the U.S. Supreme Court. Although few, if any, U.S. basing agreements with foreign nations refer to the gender of a spouse allowed to come over with military personnel, American officials said they would seek agreement with each country on interpretation before sponsoring same-sex spouses.
According to a State Department cable obtained by Stars and Stripes last year, a request for German approval on the matter was answered in March 2014, when Germany asked that the U.S. recognize its own partnership status in return. The U.S. still hadn’t responded to that note by the following November, an official with the German foreign ministry said at the time. U.S. European Command, which is responsible for working with host nations on the issue, has declined to talk about the delay in the past. The status of command sponsorship remains unclear in other countries, including South Korea, which hosts more than 30,000 military personnel. Thursday’s confirmation by the military came only after a news release from the LGBT advocacy group American Military Partner Association announced the change. The group’s president, Ashley Broadway-Mack, said one of its members was notified of the change on Wednesday by a travel manager at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. "A huge burden has been lifted off of the shoulders of so many of our military families," Broadway-Mack said.

^ If the US Federal Government recognized same-sex marriage (even before the Supreme Court did) then you would think that they would have to give full benefits to all same-sex couples the same way they do to all heterosexual couples. That should also include overseas bases. As long as a couple live on a US military base then it shouldn't matter what the local laws are. That changes if they live off-base. It seems that there are a good amount of people in the US Military that are dragging their heels about giving equal rights to gay couples (the same way bigoted civil servants in several US states refuse to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples.) The same thing happened when the US Military integrated in 1948. More needs to be done to make sure the law is fully complied with and that homosexuals get the equal rights in practice as they now have on paper. ^

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sidesteping President

From Yahoo:
"Obama Administration Plans to Sidestep Congress on Cuba Travel"
Travel to Cuba could soon be nearly as easy as travel to any other part of the world. The Obama administration plans to unilaterally ease the travel restrictions to Cuba, sources told ABC News.
The new measures would bypass limits on travel imposed by Congress by changing regulations at the executive level. Talks are already underway between the Federal Aviation Administration and Cuban aviation authorities to resume regularly scheduled non-charter or commercial flights between the two countries. And ABC News has learned that the Treasury Department is now considering new regulations that would allow all Americans to travel to Cuba as individuals and not in tour groups or with other third-party arrangers. These two changes are being developed separately by the two U.S. government agencies but, when complete, would allow Americans to book tickets to the island nation without going by charter. Those are now the only flights from the United States to Cuba because of restrictions by the embargo. While no specific timetable exists for the aviation agreement, it could come as soon as the end of the year. Americans going to Cuba would still have to fall into one of the 12 pre-approved licenses to travel, but would merely attest to compliance on-line or at the airport as they buy a ticket. No special visa would be required. ABC News has also learned Obama plans to loosen credit to Cuba so the country, which has little hard currency, can buy U.S. goods, especially agriculture. Right now it's legal to sell food to Cuba but they have to pay cash. The president also plans on unilaterally giving banks cover to allow use of credit cards, which already is supposed to be happening but is not because banks have been cautious. While American Express and MasterCard announced they would allow their cards to be used on the island, no Cuban bank has authorization, meaning those traveling from America must still pay in cash. A bill was introduced in Congress earlier this year to lift the travel embargo but has yet to move through committee. All of the changes are part of the Obama administrations goal to affect change in Cuba through contact with Americans.
^ This is no real surprise. Obama usually does things behind everyone's back whether it's Congress or the public. I don't see these changes having any major affect on Cuba's Communism. The USSR collapsed from within and that's really only how Cuba will change. I think Obama just wants to vacation in Havana once he  leaves office. The only thing we can look forward to is that he can never run for the Presidency ever again. He knows it and so that's why he is doing all these shady moves now. For most people his legacy will be lots of part-time jobs with no benefits offered (thanks to his Obamacare), knowing that he was the reason IS was allowed to take control of much of Iraq and becoming even more dangerous than Al-Qaida (thanks to him removing our soldiers there the first time without a good back-up plan), promising to remove our troops from Afghanistan, but going back on that promise, promising to recognize the Armenian Genocide as a Genocide (especially since 2015 is the 100th anniversary of the killings) and then going back on that promise, not doing much of anything to help the Ukraine after Russia invaded, occupied and annexed the Crimea and has been supplying the ethnic-Russian terrorists in eastern Ukraine, not doing much of anything else really except talking tough and creating "czars" to look into the matter. The only good thing I can say he did do while President is repealing DADT. It will be a good day for the country when we can finally use the world "was" regarding his Presidency  and that will be coming up soon enough. Of course for now we have to deal with all his whims and of course go through all the candidates on all sides before that day comes. ^