Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pull-Out Not A Given

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Capture of Kunduz could mean more US troops will stay in Afghanistan"
The U.S. drawdown of forces in Afghanistan could once again stall as military leaders and advisers weigh the options in the wake of the Taliban’s seizure Monday of a key city in the country’s north. The seizure of Kunduz from the U.S.-trained Afghan National Security Forces has raised questions about the country’s ability to defend itself from extremists in the absence of the U.S. military. According to the Wall Street Journal, military leaders will once again advise the president to retain a larger force in Afghanistan than he’d initially planned. U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell, the top military commander in Afghanistan, has provided Pentagon and NATO officials five plans addressing the drawdown, according to the newspaper. Campbell’s options include maintaining current troop levels through 2016, or shrinking them to 8,000, 5,000 or less than 1,000. Campbell is expected to testify in front of Congress next week. A Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday that the Department of Defense has not made a formal recommendation to President Barack Obama about the drawdown. Any such guidance, said Army Maj. Roger Cabiness, would include input from Obama’s national security team, commanders on the ground in Afghanistan including Campbell, and the Afghan government and military. For now, Cabiness said, the Pentagon remains committed to the president’s current plan, which calls for the current level of 9,800 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan, primarily serving in an advisory role, through the end of 2015. However, he said, it has not yet been determined how quickly it will draw down to less than 1,000 troops next year. "The specific trajectory of the 2016 drawdown will be established later this year to enable our final consolidation to a Kabul-based embassy presence by the end of 2016, with a security assistance component,” he said. The loss of Kunduz, which might only be temporary as the Afghans regrouped to launch a counteroffensive, was an obvious “setback” for the ANSF, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Tuesday. It’s the first seizure of a major city by the Taliban since 2001.
^ This is not a surprise especially after Obama removed all our troops from Iraq and then let ISIS take over large parts of that country and Syria. It showed he (Obama) and his advisors don't have a grasp of military reality and would rather work to keep their campaign promises rather than keeping Americans safe. We are in a much worse situation now in the Middle East than we were before we first left Iraq. If Obama removes all US troops from Afghanistan now - especially when the Taliban have taken a large city - it will just show his continued lack of military knowledge. The US needs to get other nations together for Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and work out a better campaign then what is currently going on since none of it is really working. ^

Obama Sues School

From Disability Scoop:
"Obama Administration Sues School Over Service Dog"
The U.S. Department of Justice is suing an elementary school for allegedly barring a student with disabilities from bringing her service dog to class unless a handler comes too. n a lawsuit filed Tuesday, the Justice Department said that the Gates Chili Central School District in Rochester, N.Y. is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for “failing to reasonably modify its policies, practices or procedures” to allow a student known in court papers as D.P. to bring her service dog to school without conditions. D.P. has Angelman syndrome, autism, epilepsy, asthma and hypotonia, according the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. The child’s service animal is trained to detect oncoming seizures and apply pressure to prevent or minimize meltdowns and stimming. In addition, the animal is trained to sit down to prevent D.P. from wandering, the lawsuit states. Though D.P. already has a one-to-one assisting her throughout the school day, the Justice Department said that the school district declined repeated requests for school staff to help accommodate the child’s service dog. Instead, the district allegedly would not allow the animal to attend unless accompanied by a full-time adult handler at the family’s expense. “It is no longer acceptable — if ever it was — for a district to refuse reasonable modifications to a child who seeks to handle her own service dog,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. of the Western District of New York. “Certainly since passage of the American with Disabilities Act in 1990, such failure not only violates the dictates of conscience, it also violates the law. This office will simply not tolerate any discrimination against any person of any age who may happen to be affected by disabilities.” Since 2012, D.P.’s mother has paid more than $25,000 for a handler to attend school with the child and her service dog, the lawsuit indicates. The Justice Department is asking that the school district be ordered to allow D.P. to handle her service dog with assistance from school staff. The lawsuit also seeks compensatory damages for D.P. and her mother. In a statement, the Gates Chili Central School District said “the district believes the lawsuit has no merit.”

^ This is one time I completely agree with Obama and his actions. It still amazes me (in a bad way) that school districts, businesses, etc continue to openly discriminate against the disabled. The ADA passed in 1990 and yet people pretend to not be aware of the law or what they are obligated to do. I could sort-of understand if a business/organization, etc had to pay to make something more accessible to comply with the law (and think the State and Federal Governments should help out with that), but when it only entails allowing a service dog there is no excuse. Had the school district allowed the service dog without a special handler then they wouldn't have even had to pay the back fees for that, but since they fought the ADA and made life unbearable for the student and her family the school should not only allow the service dog, but also back the $25,000 for the handler. The school and its officials are only teaching ALL of their students to treat the disabled poorly and not as regular people when they should be doing the opposite. ^

'Crazy' Russians

From MT:
"Russian Psychiatric Care Homes in Need of Drastic Reforms, Say Experts"
Seventy-five percent of Russians approve of committing people who suffer from mental illnesses to psychiatric institutions against their will, a survey by the independent pollster Levada Center revealed earlier this month. "In Russian society the level of social trust is low, as is the feeling of safety, and that's why Russians try to keep away from those they consider dangerous," Karina Pipiya, a sociologist for the Levada Center, told The Moscow Times in written comments. Dangerous or otherwise, thousands of people in Russia spend decades locked up in psychiatric care homes: facilities for people with psychiatric or neurological disabilities who are deemed incapable of living on their own and who have nowhere else to go or no one to take care of them. In April this year, there were 531 psychiatric care homes in Russia with more than 150,000 residents, officials said at a social workers' forum in the city of Yaroslavl.  As of Jan. 1, out of 1,917 buildings occupied by psychiatric facilities, 63 were in need of major renovation work, 47 were declared dilapidated and 17 were in a critical state, Nadezhda Uskova, deputy minister for social security in the Moscow region, was cited by the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper as saying. Russia's psychiatric homes have been described by media and human rights advocates as prisons where residents are stripped of their rights and pumped full of strong psychotropic medications while the administration takes advantage of their helplessness to appropriate their property and welfare benefits. Alexander Prokhorov was sent to a care home in St. Petersburg directly from an orphanage after he turned 18. He suffers from severe kyphosis (excessive curvature of the spine), and says he was also diagnosed with learning difficulties in order to make him eligible for incarceration in a care home.  Prokhorov, 31, spent more than 10 years there before he finally got the apartment to which he was entitled by law as an orphan.  He describes his years in the facility as far from happy. The building was old and dilapidated, the food was bad and residents were forced to take psychotropic medications and threatened with being committed to a mental hospital for bad behavior, he told The Moscow Times in a phone interview. "Do you think I would've left [to live in my apartment] if it was a good place? If I had been able to get back massages [for his condition], or [exercise] in a swimming pool? But there was nothing," Prokhorov said. There was physiotherapy, he said, but "most of the time the instructor just sat there and played with his phone, telling me to do it on my own." Andrei Druzhinin, 33, was diagnosed with autism as a child and was committed to a care home when he was 28 by his aunt, who took possession of his apartment in the center of Moscow.  His girlfriend Nadezhda Pelepets describes him as a man fully capable of living a normal life — just shy and sometimes impractical. His aunt, an employee of a psychiatric institution herself, had him committed to a mental hospital where he was diagnosed with a psychiatric condition. Soon after the court declared him incapable and sent him to a care home. The four years Druzhinin spent in the facility seriously damaged his physical and emotional wellbeing, Pelepets told The Moscow Times, because he was forced to take strong medications that he didn't need, and because life there was monotonous and depressing.  "There was a corridor, and a room with a TV set," she said in a phone interview. "So he could walk along the corridor or watch TV, and basically, that's it," she said.  The facility's administration resisted her attempts to take him out — even for a few hours or a day — to make his life more interesting, as well as her attempts to have him declared capable, she said. "The only reason Andrei got out was because I officially became his guardian," she said. There are three types of residents in psychiatric care homes, said Tatyana Malchikova, president of the Civic Commission for Human Rights, an NGO that specializes in human rights violations in psychiatry.  There are those who suffer from serious neurological or mental illnesses and need specialized care, orphans who have had to leave their institutes after turning 18 and have been diagnosed with psychiatric conditions, and those who were falsely committed on the basis of a fabricated diagnosis. "The system of psychiatric care homes is the most rotten part of the country's psychiatry infrastructure," Malchikova told The Moscow Times in a phone interview.  "Most of the complaints we've dealt with during the last 15 years concerned psychiatric care homes," she said.  All orphans declared to have psychiatric or neurological disabilities are sent to live in psychiatric care homes after they turn 18, the human rights advocate said. Most of them are diagnosed with learning difficulties, but that's often incorrect, she said. "These children often don't know how to read or write; they behave inappropriately because no one worked with them, no one taught them," which gives social workers grounds to conclude that they have learning difficulties, Malchikova told The Moscow Times. So instead of getting their own apartments as orphans are entitled to by law, they end up in care homes — along with adults put there by relatives who want to claim their property or other assets.  "The scheme is simple. A person reports their relative as dangerous to society to the police or nearest psychiatric institution, then commits that relative to a mental hospital where they are pumped full of drugs," Malchikova said. "Then the person goes to court and demands that their relative be declared incapable. Even if the relative is present at the hearing, imagine the condition they're in after all the medications they have been given: They look [unwell] and behave oddly, so the judge easily declares them incapable," and the relative is sent to a psychiatric care home, leaving their property at the disposal of family members, she said. "But the most frequent violation is declaring kids [from orphanages] incapable without them even knowing," she said.  "This way the care home becomes the guardian of its residents and is allowed to use their property, whatever that is — real estate outside of the home, or any welfare payments they receive, or other things," she told The Moscow Times. Residents of these facilities are often kept under lock and key, according to Malchikova, with their passports confiscated by the administration and medical staff giving them strong psychotropic medications and punishing them for "bad" behavior. Means of punishment vary, she said. The care home administration may seize their property, such as phones or laptops, send them to a psychiatric hospital or simply lock them up in improvised punishment cells, just like in prison. The system of psychiatric care homes needs reforming, said Yelena Topoleva-Soldunova, a member of Russia's Civic Chamber that monitors the situation in the homes together with NGOs and human rights activists.  "The system is ponderous, it was formed a long time ago and it is difficult to change it and carry out reforms. But at the same time it is so outdated from the point of view of both medicine and social services that changes need to be made," Topoleva-Soldunova told The Moscow Times in a phone interview.
Society and NGOs realized this some time ago, she said, and have recently started a dialogue with decision-makers. "We've put together a working group at the Labor Ministry and started discussing ways of reforming the system," Topoleva-Soldunova said.  She echoed Murashov's statement about outdated standards and said that today, providing food and basic necessities was not enough for the residents of the homes.  "We want them to lead dignified lives there, or be adopted by families, or live on their own [outside the care homes] if they're capable of doing so," Topoleva-Soldunova said.  First and foremost, according to her, reform should be aimed at preventing teenagers from orphanages being sent to care homes, because they don't develop there: They don't study or work, and spend their days surrounded by walls and fences.  A lot of them can live on their own with the help of social workers, said Topoleva-Soldunova.  Another important goal is to initiate rehabilitation for residents of care homes whose condition is serious. At present they are often simply constrained to their beds. "But medical science is moving forward, and a lot can be done for them," said Topoleva-Soldunova.
^ I worked with the disabled (physically and mentally) for 4 summers at an overnight summer camp. Every year we watched a documentary about the Willowbrook Institution in New York and how horrible the conditions for the patients were there before it was shut down. The care that most mentally disabled people receive in the West has improved by leaps and bounds since the 1970s. The rest of the world (Russia included) continue to treat the mentally disabled as criminals who deserve to be completely hidden away from society with no hope of any future and where any method of treatment or punishment is allowed. The last time I was studying in Yaroslavl I went to a different location around the city with my teacher everyday to both practice my Russian and learn about everyday life. I went to places like: the police station, hospital, wedding palace, fire department, a woman's shelter, a charity that helps the homeless, a city government office, etc. I wanted to go to an institution for the mentally disabled in the city (since I knew the Soviets placed many dissidents and anti-Communists/Soviets in these kinds of hospitals once they closed the Gulags in the 1960s.) My teacher refused out-right to even ask for permission to visit. I did "fight" for and finally get to visit a hospital for disabled children and learned a great deal about how the system has changed and how it has remained the same throughout the decades. I was also taught that the majority of Russians historically have seen the disabled (physically or mentally) as God's work and so the disabled are sinners who deserve what they have received and so they shouldn't get any help in becoming members of society and that the best thing for them and everyone else is to keep them away from ordinary people. I only spent several hours with the disabled children, but I learned more in that short time then I did visiting any of the other places. The fact that my teacher refused to even consider me going to see the mentally disabled - even one's with "mild" mental disabilities -  gave me more of an insight too. The mentally disabled around the world deserve to be treated like everyone else and given the same basic rights and opportunities. While not everyone who is mentally disabled can live on their own they should still be treated like humans, given proper food, shelter, basic education, care and love. ^

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Avoiding A Shutdown

From USA Today:
"Congress gears up for major budget talks with White House"
Congressional leaders are gearing up to begin budget talks with the White House aimed at setting federal budget outlines for the next two years in the hopes of averting another government shutdown threat in December. The House and Senate are moving toward passage of a funding bill that will stave off a federal government shutdown when the fiscal year expires Wednesday night. The plan will extend current spending levels through Dec. 11. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday that he and departing Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have discussed with President Obama the prospect of starting budget talks, and "we expect them to start very soon." He added that he hopes to be able to "settle on a top line for both years" — fiscal years 2016 and 2017 — so that next year Congress can return to the regular process of passing spending bills for various agencies under an agreed-upon overall budget target. McConnell said that this year, Democrats objected to spending bills drafted under existing tight budget caps — known as sequestration — because they want more spending for domestic programs. Republicans are seeking more defense spending than the current caps allow. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the "Republican leader has already conceded that budget negotiations will crack the budget caps" and added that getting a two-year deal "would be wonderful." Reid said there is "stuff going on — at the staff level" to get the talks started, and "if there are any talks I'll be invited." These talks are likely to be a rerun of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations at the end of 2012. Any negotiations on a spending bill will likely have to include a wide range of contentious issues, such as funding for highway construction and extending billions of dollars worth of tax cuts. Congress also needs to again raise the federal debt limit this fall, which could be included in the same negotiations. The process is complicated by the fact that Boehner announced last week he is resigning from Congress effective Oct. 30, and Republicans in the House are scrambling to choose a new leadership team. Nevertheless, Reid said he hoped the parties could reach agreement before Boehner leaves.
^ The Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress as well as the Presidency need to do what is right for the whole country and avoid another government shutdown. Hopefully, they will come up with a budget before the deadline. ^

Polish Question

From Yahoo:
"Poland moves to take in ethnic Poles from former USSR"

Poland has earmarked funds to bring in tens of thousands of ethnic Poles now living in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, its finance minister said Tuesday. The long-neglected issue was raised recently amid a heated debate over the European Union's plan to share 120,000 refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia among its 28 members. Poland has said it will host 7,000 of them. Critics of the refugee program, however, say Poland's first obligation is toward the ethnic Poles who Soviet dictator Josef Stalin expelled by hundreds of thousands from their homes, and to their descendants. Most of the expulsions took place during World War II, when Soviet authorities forcefully sent Poles from areas overtaken by the Red Army to Siberia or the bare steppes of Kazakhstan. The families were not allowed to return for decades under communism, both in the Soviet Union and Poland, until the 1990s. Finance Minister Mateusz Szczurek said Tuesday the Cabinet has put aside funds for the repatriations — and the Interior Ministry said it would be 30 million zlotys ($8 million) in 2016 alone. The money — for housing, Polish language lessons and professional training — would go to local governments to encourage them to take in the arrivals. Under the EU refugee program, funds for people from Syria and Eritrea will come from the bloc. Democratic Poland started the ethnic repatriation program in the late 1990s but the reluctance of local governments has been a chief obstacle. So far, some 5,000 ethnic Poles have been brought to Poland from Kazakhstan, Georgia and Uzbekistan, according to the Interior Ministry. Another 180 were evacuated from war-torn eastern Ukraine in February. But tens of thousands more are waiting. There are at least 34,000 ethnic Poles in Kazakhstan alone, according to estimates.

^ It does seem like too little too late. The Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended 24 years ago. That is when the program would have been most helpful to ethnic Poles living in the former USSR. Germany did the same back in the 1970s and 1980s, but it wasn't until the Iron Curtain fell in the 1990s that the majority of ethnic Germans fled the collapsing Communist countries of Eastern Europe. It seems the Poles are just really focusing on this "issue" now so they can say they are too busy getting ethnic Poles back home then taking care of non-European migrants and refugees. I would hope that is the case since the alternative would follow every single Polish joke known in the US. ^

Kviv Ban

From Yahoo:
"Russia closes airspace to Ukraine airlines from Oct 25"

Russia on Monday said it would close its airspace to Ukrainian airlines from October 25 in reprisal for a ban that Ukraine has slapped on two Russian firms. Acting on instructions from Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, the federal transport agency "has been asked to inform (Ukrainian) air companies providing flights to Russia that they will be forbidden to use Russian airspace from October 25," the official Tass news agency said, quoting a transport ministry spokesman. The measure is in response to a decision by the Ukrainian authorities last week that banned the Russian companies Aeroflot and Transaero from flying into the country, also from October 25. Russian transit flights will also be banned if the aircraft carry military personnel or dual-use goods, under the decision announced in Kiev. The move -- aimed at punishing Russia for its annexation of Crimea and alleged support for ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine -- was branded by Moscow as an "act of madness." On September 16, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko expanded a list of sanctions against Russian companies and individuals, targeting 400 officials and 90 companies.
^ This is no surprise. Russia is doing the same thing the Ukraine did - of course after the fact - to try and save face. I don't know why the Ukraine is doing all of this now - over a year after Russia annexed the Crimea. I think the Ukrainians were hoping that the US, Canada, the EU,  NATO, the UN, etc would do something first and since they really haven't it is up to the Ukrainians. I don't know of any country at war with another country (especially where land was taken and annexed unilaterally) that has had such cordial relations as the Ukraine and Russia have. It shows great restraint on the part of Kyiv since I have no doubt Russia would never have tolerated the same thing if it happened to them. ^

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope Blesses Disabled

From Disability Scoop:
"Pope Blesses Kids With Special Needs"
Michael Keating, age 10, has had more than his share to bear. Born prematurely, the Berks County boy has cerebral palsy. He can’t use his arms or legs. He suffers from seizures, and his brain cannot process what he sees or hears. He has intellectual disabilities. Last year, he had spinal fusion surgery, and in August, doctors replaced his hips. More surgeries are likely. Yet for all that, Michael’s family says he knows joy. He loves music, he loves Shiloh, his black Lab. And he especially loves kisses, lots of kisses. Saturday, Michael received a kiss, a gift, that by now has welled up tears around the world, a story told and retold: How Pope Francis stopped the car that was whisking him off the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport, walked up to a boy in a wheelchair to bless him, and gently placed a kiss on his forehead. Since then, Michael’s parents Chuck and Kristin, both teachers, have heard from hundreds of family, friends and former students. “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America” want to interview them.  But more than anything else, the family from Elverson Borough is feeling grateful and awestruck by the simple, caring gesture of a humble pope. “I feel I will be less apprehensive because I know he’s been blessed by the pope,” said mother Kristin, referring to the additional surgeries Michael faces. “I always hoped he would be blessed, but when it happened, it was unreal,” said Chuck. When the pope’s plane touched down, Chuck Keating was leading Bishop Shanahan High School’s Marching Eagles band. He also teaches music. As the pope appeared in the aircraft’s doorway, the band launched into the theme from “Rocky.” By the time Francis was being slowly driven away in his black Fiat 500L, they were playing “Ode to Joy.” But then the car turned, headed toward the band, and stopped. Francis waved to bystanders and gave the band a thumbs-up. Then he saw Michael. And got out of the car. Michael’s twin brother Christopher and sister Katie, 13, both welled up. Kristin Keating cried and thanked Francis, who took her hand. Kids in the band called out, “We love you, Francis!” The pope’s visit, of course, had only begun. No sooner did he enter the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Center City than he spied two more children with disabilities, with their mothers in the front row. Like the Keatings, Delaware moms Nancy Lemus and Luz Moyao had driven up early, hoping against hope for a blessing. Lemus’ son Christopher Garcia, 10, has severe cerebral palsy. Moyao’s son Angel Zavaleta, 8, has TARP Syndrome. Francis “came right to the boys, hugged them, blessed them and made the sign of the cross on their foreheads,” Lemus said. There are no words for the emotions of the parents. “It was once in a lifetime,” Lemus said. Michael Keating’s father said, “I was just blown away by it, truly blown away.” After the blessing at the airport, Michael Keating, a purple bag of rosary beads in his lap, was smiling. Michael and his brother, who is typically developing, were adopted. It wasn’t long before doctors told Chuck and Kristin Keating that Michael had grave problems. Chuck said it didn’t matter. “There was never a thought about it,” he said. “As soon as the first time we held them, they were our sons.” If anything, he said, Michael’s challenges “have brought us together as family.” Christopher and his sister Katie, who is also adopted, attend Twin Valley Middle School in Elverson. Michael attends the Child and Career Development Center in Coatesville. “We’re all feeling great and very fortunate,” said Kristin, who teaches elementary school in the Great Valley School District.
On Saturday, the family left home before 3 a.m. to get to the airport. As the hours wore on, Michael was becoming testy, restless. But during the pope’s blessing, he was calm. His father was struck by Francis’ “incredible presence, just an aura.” He thinks his son may have sensed it, too. “I think he felt something, because he smiled.”
^ I have said this before about Pope Francis and can gladly say it again. Pope Francis is truly the embodiment of what a religious leader should be. He puts others before himself and doesn't matter if they are criminals, poor, disabled, etc. He is continuing the kind of Catholic Church that Pope John Paul 2nd led (we will simply forget there ever was a German Nazi Pope in-between.) Like with Pope John Paul 2nd I have heard from many Protestants and Jews saying they would like to be Catholic if everything was done like these two men (John Paul and Francis) did/do. That says a lot. I don't always agree with what the Catholic Church preaches or does, but it is times like this where I'm proud to be Catholic and only wish more people (from the ordinary parishioners to priests, nuns, cardinals, etc) would follow the example of these two great men and make the Catholic Church and the world even better. ^

New England Foliage

From Yankee Foliage:
"New England Foliage Map"

^ I found this site that does a good job of letting people know the foliage reports for New England. You can also move the map around and see places like New York. ^

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blood Moon

NH Foliage

"Foliage Tracker"

When is the Right Time to Visit? Figuring out the perfect time to catch peak foliage in New Hampshire can be a bit of a leap of faith, but our foliage tracker below will help you select the perfect time to see nature's fireworks. Use the sliding bar to view approximate color change weekly throughout the fall season. Click on a region to view that area's up-to-date foliage report. Foliage reports are updated twice weekly through the end of October. - See more at:

^ I like these kinds of sites that help residents and visitors plan their vacations/trips. ^

Friday, September 25, 2015

Farc Peace

From the BBC:
"Colombia peace deal with Farc rebels 'within six months'"
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the Farc rebel group have set a six-month deadline to sign a peace deal. President Santos and the rebel leader known as Timochenko shook hands in Cuba, where the two sides have been holding peace talks since 2012. On Wednesday, they reached agreement on how to punish human rights abuses committed during the conflict. The issue had been seen as one of the biggest hurdles on the road to peace.  We're not going to fail! This is the chance for peace!," President Santos said.  "On 23 March 2016 we will be bidding farewell to the longest-running conflict in the Americas," he added.  "Let's join efforts to achieve peace," Farc leader Timochenko later posted on the rebels' Twitter feed.   The guerrilla group also agreed to surrender its weapons within 60 days of a final accord being signed.  US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the deal as "historic progress" and expressed his "deep appreciation to Pope Francis for his moral leadership and the Vatican's good offices in the quest for peace". During his visit to Cuba, Pope Francis had alluded to previous failed peace negotiations between the two sides and warned them that "we can't allow another failure on the road to peace and reconciliation".
Who will mete out justice?
Special courts and a peace tribunal will be set up to deal with alleged crimes related to the conflict and will try all participants in the conflict, including members of the security forces.
Will there be an amnesty?
Yes and no. Combatants will be covered by an amnesty, but war crimes and crimes against humanity will not fall under it.
Will Farc leaders be sent to jail?
That depends. Those who confess to the most serious crimes will see their "freedom restricted" and be confined, but not in ordinary jails. It is not yet clear where they would serve their sentence instead. Those who confess past a certain deadline or refuse to admit their crimes altogether will go to prison for up to 20 years.
Will the guilty pay for their crimes?
Even those who will not be sent to prison will have to carry out work aimed at repairing some of the damage caused in more than 50 years of conflict, such as helping to clear landmines and plant alternative crops where coca was grown.
President Santos said that he had given his negotiating team instructions to hammer out the outstanding issues before 23 March 2016. He said it would be "no easy task as many difficult points still need to be agreed". Since starting official peace talks in Havana in November 2012, the two sides have struck deals on land reform, political participation, illegal drugs and now transitional justice. However, none of these agreements will come into force until both sides put their signatures to the final agreement.  It will then be put to the Colombian people in a referendum.  While many Colombians have welcomed Wednesday's breakthrough, some - among them victims of the Farc - say it means perpetrators of serious crimes will enjoy impunity.  Former President Alvaro Uribe, a hardliner and harsh critic of President Santos, tweeted that "it's not peace that's near, it's the surrender to Farc and the tyranny of Venezuela" in a reference to the role Colombia's neighbour has played accompanying the talks.
Conflict totals:
•An estimated 220,000 killed
•More than five million internally displaced
•More than seven million registered victims
•About 8,000 Farc rebels continue fighting

^ I have heard about the Farc rebels in Columbia for years, but have no real idea what they are fighting for or against. It seems though that the fighting and violence will finally come to an end after so many decades and hopefully Columbia will be able to transition to peace in such a way that everyone - including the victims - get justice. ^

Plane Ban

From the BBC:
"Ukraine crisis: Kiev bans Russian airlines' flights"
Ukraine has said it will ban Russian airlines from flying into the country as part of sanctions over Moscow's support for rebels in the east. Kiev said the measures would take effect on 25 October and would include major Russian airlines Aeroflot and Transaero. Russian transit flights will also be banned if the planes carry military personnel or dual-use goods. Moscow described the move as "an act of madness", promising firm response. In a separate development, Ukraine and Russia reached an agreement on supplies of natural gas to Kiev for the coming winter, ending month of tough negotiations. The deal - brokered by the European Union - was initialled in Brussels. However, it requires "further procedures" before it can be signed.  Past gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine have led to interruptions in supply and caused major disruptions in shipments of Russian gas to EU countries. The flight ban was announced by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk. "Russian planes with the Russian tricolour have no business in Ukrainian airports," he said. Ukraine's aviation authorities later said the ban would take effect on 25 October. Last week, Ukraine imposed sanctions against 400 people and 90 legal entities - most of them from Russia - held responsible for Moscow's annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Responding to Ukraine's ban announcement, Russian officials said they would be forced to take adequate measures.
Dmirty Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said - that if implemented - such a ban would be "another act of madness".  Almost 8,000 people have been killed since fighting erupted in eastern Ukraine in April 2014. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of arming the separatists and also sending its regular troops in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Moscow denies this, but admits that Russian "volunteers" fight alongside the rebels. The EU and the US have imposed their own sanctions against Russian officials and top allies of President Putin. A ceasefire in eastern Ukraine has been holding in the last two weeks, although there have been reports of occasional shelling.
^ I think the Russians' response was funny. They called it an "act of madness." To many people around the world the madness is when Russia invaded, occupied and annexed the Crimea and then supplied troops and weapons to the ethnic Russian terrorists in eastern Ukraine. They started a war that has killed and displaced so many innocent people and has changed the international dynamic that was relatively stable since the Cold War ended in 1991. That is true madness. I'm still surprised and amazed at how cordial the Ukrainians continue to be toward the Russians. It is a war like none other. The Ukraine continues to supply Russian-annexed Crimea because Russia can't/won't. Now Russia is moving on to fight in Syria to help their dictator-friend there. That is also madness. I can only hope that the Russian madness will soon end and that the Ukraine will finally be allowed to chose its own future for itself rather than be bullied like it has been for centuries. ^

1/3 Of Americans

The Hollywood Reporter:
"Poll: One-Third of Americans Would Refuse to Hide a Jew During the Holocaust"
The scientific poll is part of a marketing plan for 'Return to the Hiding Place,' a movie about Christians helping Jews during the Holocaust. One-third of American adults, if alive during the Holocaust, would refuse to hide a Jew from the Nazis. That data comes courtesy of a scientific poll conducted as part of an odd marketing ploy to promote the digital release of the film Return to the Hiding Place, which tells the true story of Christians who risked death to shelter Jews from Nazis seeking to ship them off to death camps during World War II. The film, in fact, is similar to 1975's The Hiding Place, only this time around the story is told from the perspective of a physics student who refuses to join Germany's Nazi party. Return to the Hiding Place was released theatrically last year and managed impressive business on a per-screen basis. It then played in hundreds of churches through EchoLight Studios, the company run by Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. It was released on and iTunes on Sept.15, and a two-disc DVD set with both The Hiding Place and Return to the Hiding Place was released through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  Peter Spencer, who directed and co-produced the movie, got the idea for the poll when star John Rhys-Davies — during a Hallmark Channel appearance to promote the movie — asked Home & Family co-hosts Cristina Ferrare and Mark Steines if they'd have risked the lives of their own families to hide a Jew from Nazis. Ferrare was adamant she would, while Steines said he wouldn't have been able to put his family in such danger. See the clip below. It's a moral dilemma that we've never had to face, but you know those kids did, and their families did, and a lot of them lost their lives because of it," Rhys-Davies says to the co-hosts, referencing the true-life characters in the film.  Barna Research conducted the poll, asking the question: "Think back to World War II when Jews in Europe were forced into concentration camps and many were killed by the Nazis. If you were living in this time period, would you have risked the possible imprisonment and death of yourself and your family to hide Jews?" Sixty-nine percent said they would while 31 percent said they would not, with males more likely than females to answer in the affirmative. Married people were more likely to say yes than were single people, and homosexuals were more likely to say yes than were heterosexuals. The religious were more likely to answer yes than were the irreligious, and Southerners were more likely to say yes than were those from the Northeast.  While many demographics were broken down, the pollsters did not isolate Jews compared with non-Jews because the sample size was too small to be statistically accurate. The pollsters surveyed 1,000 Americans and the research boasts a 95 percent confidence level with a ±3 percent sample error. Beyond marketing his film, Spencer says he'll use the poll to draw attention to ISIS, the Islamic terror group that today is killing non-Muslims in the Middle East. "Our film raises uncomfortable questions such as, 'If you are not saving your brothers now when you are not under threat, would you save them when your life was in danger?' " says Spencer. "ISIS is intent on liquidating Christians and Jews just as Hitler was intent on liquidating the Jewish people," Spencer said. "We often think of saving strangers as hypothetical, but we are at a moment in history where that call to action is not only literal, it is vital."
^ What surprises me about this poll isn't that 1/2 of Americans questioned said they wouldn't have helped save a Jew during the Holocaust. What surprised me was that so many people openly told the truth even though it makes them look bad. Of course no one can truly know what they would do unless they are placed in that situation. Those that said they would help could become scared of the consequences and chicken out while those that said they wouldn't help could see it with their own eyes and decide on the spur of the moment to do something. I haven't heard of this movie and have it coming in the mail to watch. I hope it is better than the 1970s "The Hiding Place." That movie was hard to watch  - not because of its subject matter - but because of the poor acting, poor sound, etc. I have read the book and believe the story is a good one to be told to show how someone not directly affected by the Nazis or the Holocaust (ie Christians) risked everything to help Jews. ^

Moscow Gulag

From the MT:
"Design Chosen for Moscow Monument Commemorating Gulag Victims"
The winner of a public initiative competition to design a Moscow monument honoring victims of the gulags has been chosen from 336 entries by a jury and team of experts.  Sculptor Georgy Frangulyan announced Wednesday on his website that his proposal "Wall of Grief," a large-scale relief of human figures symbolizing gulag victims, had been selected.  The monument is to be erected within Moscow's Garden Ring, at the intersection of Sadovo-Spasskaya Ulitsa and Prospekt Akademika Sakharova, according to the contest's website, organized by the Moscow City Department of Culture and the Gulag History Museum. The design was selected by a jury of 26 Russian cultural figures: author Daniil Granin, filmmakers Stanislav Govorukhin, Pavel Lungin, Sergei Miroshnichenko and Gleb Panfilov, human rights activists Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Arseny Roginsky of Memorial, Alexei Simonov of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, and human rights ombudswoman Ella Pamfilova, among others. Although the contest was sponsored by the Moscow city government, independent Ekho Moskvy radio reported Thursday that Russians were donating money online to finance construction of the monument, which is scheduled to be unveiled by October 2016. President Vladimir Putin had previously instructed Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and other officials to present proposals for the site and design of a Moscow monument to commemorate victims of political purges, the news website reported Tuesday. Frangulyan, the sculptor, will receive a monetary award of 350,000 ($5,300) for his winning design, the Gulag History Museum said, government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported. Competition runners-up — artists Sergei Muratov and Yelena Bocharova — will be awarded 300,000 rubles and 250,000 rubles respectively, the report said.

^ An official memorial in Moscow (the capital of both the Soviet Union and Russia) is long over-due. It represents the millions upon millions of innocent men, women and children from all over Russia, the former USSR and most of Europe who suffered in the Gulag system - many never seeing their homes or loved ones ever again. ^

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Scots' Snow

From the BBC:
"Scots 'have 421 words' for snow"
Scotland has more than 400 words and expressions for snow, according to a project to compile a Scots thesaurus. Academics have officially logged 421 terms - including "snaw" (snow), "sneesl" (to begin to rain or snow) and "skelf" (a large snowflake). The study by the University of Glasgow is part of a project to compile the first Historical Thesaurus of Scots, which is being published online. The research team have also appealed for people to send in their own words. It is often said that the Inuit have 50 different words for snow. Other Scots examples include:
  • feefle - to swirl
  • flindrikin - a slight snow shower
  • snaw-pouther - fine driving snow
  • spitters - small drops or flakes of wind-driven rain or snow
  • unbrak - the beginning of a thaw
The first two categories featured in the thesaurus concentrate on Scots words for weather and sport - with marbles taking the crown ahead of football at 369 words. Dr Susan Rennie, lecturer in English and Scots language at the university, said: "Weather has been a vital part of people's lives in Scotland for centuries. The number and variety of words in the language show how important it was for our ancestors to communicate about the weather, which could so easily affect their livelihoods. "You might expect sports like football and golf to loom large in the thesaurus, but it turns out that there are actually more words relating to marbles - which is an indication of how popular the game has been with generations of Scottish children."Dr Rennie added: "There may be other words out there that we are not yet aware of, and that is where we would welcome the support of the public. If they use or remember words for particular sports or weather, we would love to hear about them. "We also welcome photographs, which can be uploaded on our website. We already have some images online to illustrate Scots words for clouds, for example, but we would like more to make this a fully-illustrated thesaurus." The new thesaurus also covers sports such as golf and shinty, and the many Scots words for clouds and mist. The team will be adding new categories over the next few months, including one for rain.

^ I knew the Eskimos had hundreds of words for snow, but didn't know the Scottish did too. I've been to Scotland a dozen times including in Winter. It's a nice little tid-bit to know. ^

Non-Compliant States

From Travel and Leisure:
"If You’re From One of These Four States, You’ll Likely Need a Passport for a Domestic Flight"

Driver’s licenses from New York, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and the American Samoa will no longer be enough to get on a domestic commercial flight.  Starting in 2016, travelers from four U.S. states will not be able to use their driver’s licenses as ID to board domestic flights—a pretty major development considering an estimated 38 percent of Americans don’t have passports. The standard licenses from New York, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and American Samoa are considered “noncompliant” with the security standards outlined in the Real ID Act, which was enacted back in 2005 but is being implemented in stages. Why are these specific licenses deemed sub-par? In these five places, getting a license doesn't require proof of citizenship or residency. The new rules will go into effect sometime in 2016 (the exact date has not been announced), and there will be a three-month forgiveness period, during which people with these licenses will be warned that their IDs are no longer valid for flights. Here’s the breakdown: if you're from one of these states, “acceptable” IDs include passports and passport cards, as well as permanent resident cards, U.S. military ID, and DHS trusted traveler cards such a Global Entry and NEXUS. The TSA will also accept Enhanced Driver’s Licenses, the kind that are currently used to replace passports for travel to and from  Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Of the noncompliant states, only New York and Minnesota issue enhanced licenses. For families from these states, at least children under 18 years old do not need ID when traveling with a companion.
^  On the map above the states in dark green are Real ID compliant. The states in lighter green have an approved extension from the Federal Government. The other states are not Real ID compliant. I know several people in two of the non-compliant states and they are wondering how their state government will handle this as well as how the Federal Government will especially because New York is one of the most populated states in the country and also a major tourist and business destination. I don't have to worry about anything as I already have a Passport Book, a Passport Card and a Canadian Passport. It would be nice if my state had enhanced licenses as a cheaper alternative. I am curious to see how this all pans out. ^

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Disabled Apps

From Disability Scoop:
"Smartphones, Apps Prove Liberating For Those With Special Needs"
Ruben Morales, a 59-year-old retired engineer who is blind and lives in Silicon Valley, has used a specialized screen-reading program for years to write and run spreadsheets on his desktop computer.
But recently, he figuratively cut the cord to his desktop and joined the mobile revolution. Morales was visiting an area Veterans Affairs blind rehabilitation center, learning how to use an iPhone’s features for people with vision impairment. “It’s pretty amazing,” Morales said, demonstrating how he can call up a song and play it with a few taps. “Whatever I can do on the computer I can basically do it on the iPhone. It has the same capability.” The smartphone, a gadget designed for the sighted, has turned out to be a godsend for those who are blind and visually impaired, making them more independent than ever before. With VoiceOver, the iPhone’s built-in gesture-based app that reads text on a touch-screen aloud, or Google Android’s TalkBack, users who are blind can access anything on their phones. The user activates apps with a few gestures — single finger to explore and find buttons, one-finger touch to identify things on the screen and double-tap to push the button after it’s located. “It’s a learning curve, but you can learn to do every single thing on an iPhone that anyone else can do,” said Lee Huffman, editor of AccessWorld, published by the American Foundation for the Blind. “These devices are opening up a whole new world.” It didn’t look like it would turn out that way at first. “The blind community started getting really panicky” when smartphones and later, tablets, took off following the iPhone’s debut in 2007, researcher Joshua Miele, associate director of Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, recalled. “Touch-screens were a real concern.” But in 2009, Apple included VoiceOver in its mobile operating system, and followed up with the personal assistant Siri in 2011, launching a new world of mobility for the visually impaired. Google added TalkBack, a screen reader, to its Android operating system in 2009 and Google Now, a personal assistant, in 2012. Microsoft mobile has similar features. “It’s made a huge difference, productivity-wise,” said Jennison Asuncion, accessibility leader at LinkedIn, who is blind. “I use my mobile phone probably even more than lot of people.” Erin Lauridsen, 32, a trainer at the Independent Living Resource Center in San Francisco, has been blind since birth and grew up using expensive, clunky, single-purpose devices for doing coursework in school. “When the iPhone 3GS came out with VoiceOver built in it was a huge game-changer for me and a lot of other people,” she said. She uses an app called BlindSquare for navigation; Money Reader to identify currency denominations; and Voice Dream Reader to assemble audio play lists of documents from many sources. She also uses Uber and a lot of other popular apps. “I’m on an equal footing with what everyone else does — the Yelping, Facebooking and Twittering,” she said. People who are visually impaired want to use their mobile phones like anyone else, said Astrid Weber, who researches user experience at Google, visiting people who are visually impaired in their homes to see what they need and how they use technology. “Mobility is really important for them,” she said. Google Now — the Android personal assistant — is popular with users with vision impairment, said Eve Andersson, manager of Google’s accessibility engineering. Her parents who are vision impaired use it all the time, she said. “They ask their phones questions, ask it to call me, ask it for directions and create reminders. They love being able to do that with their voice.” For years there have been screen readers for desktop computers. OutSpoken, developed by Berkeley Systems in the late 1980s, was the first for the Mac, according to Smith-Kettlewell’s Miele, who worked for the company. But while VoiceOver and TalkBack broke the tether to the desktop, third-party apps still have to be made accessible to people with disabilities. There’s a legal issue too. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires websites and mobile applications to be accessible, said disability rights lawyer Lainey Feingold, although regulations are still being worked on by the U.S. Department of Justice. Google announced Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities last year with a $20 million grant for technology innovators in the nonprofit community who work on technology to make people with disabilities more independent. “We’re actively looking for proposals,” said Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink of Adobe, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Intuit, Microsoft and others have jointly asked universities to train computer students in accessibility software design and are requiring new hires to demonstrate some familiarity with it. Something as simple as labeling buttons so that VoiceOver can read them aloud can make a big difference, developers say. Ari Weinstein, co-founder of the San Francisco startup DeskConnect, said that when its task organizer Workflow was released “we got a bunch of people from the visually impaired community reaching out and saying, ‘Hey this looks like a really great product but I can’t use it because I can’t see the screen and you have no VoiceOver.’ We spent a couple days, maybe a week, implementing really great accessibility features making it compatible with Apple’s VoiceOver.” The product won an Apple 2015 Design Award for its accessibility features.
^ It continues to amaze me just how much technology has helped the disabled communicate more with the world. In the past the disabled were hidden from view and were regarded as "useless" and "unproductive" elements of society. The Nazis murdered them and many countries (including the US) sterilized them. It took centuries, but the disabled are now coming out of "hiding" and are making their voices heard. What started with the telephone and the home computer has now moved to hand-held smartphones. People can literally be anywhere in the world (except for places like my mountain where cell phones don't work) and use specialized apps to help them get information, send e-mails, make calls and do all the other things non-disabled people can do. While there are still several bugs to work out for the different apps the fact that they are out there shows just how far we have come in accepting the disabled as the regular people they are. I only see more and more great opportunities or the disabled in the coming years as better technology and apps are made available. ^

Yom Kippur!

Pope's Visit

From the BBC:
"Pope Francis begins tour of the US"
Pope Francis has begun to begin his tour of the US, where he is expected to greet millions of America Catholics and address thorny issues like climate change and income inequality. US President Barack Obama welcomed the pope as he landed on Tuesday - a rare honour for a foreign dignitary. The pontiff will visit Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia.  Before he departed Cuba on Tuesday, he called on its people to live a "revolution of tenderness". In the final Mass of his four-day visit to the island, with President Raul Castro attending, he urged thousands of Cubans to serve one another and not an ideology.  When he landed at Andrews Air Force Base, the Pope was greeted by Mr Obama and his family along with Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife.  The crowd, which included a military honour guard, schoolchildren, politicians, and Roman Catholic clergymen, chanted: "Welcome to the USA! Hello! Hey!"  Taking questions from journalists, the Pope answered in Spanish and Italian for almost half an hour - apologizing that English was not his forte.  Authorities have launched one of the biggest security operations in US history to ensure the pope's safety. The pontiff, who has sought to bring Catholics back to the church with a more inclusive message, is very popular in the US and is expected to draw massive crowds in all three cities.  A large portion of central Philadelphia will be practically closed off during his visit and federal employees in Washington have been urged to work remotely while the Pope is in the capital. The event could attract up to a million and a half people. The Pope enjoys going into crowds and using an open-sided Jeep rather than a bulletproof "popemobile", throwing US law enforcement off as they mount huge security operations. The BBC's Will Grant in Cuba says the Pope has avoided any overt political statements during his visit there but commentators say he is expected to be more outspoken while in the US.
The pontiff's schedule
  • Pope Francis will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House
  • Papal Parade along DC's National Mall
  • Prayer with US bishops at Saint Matthew's Cathedral in DC
  • Canonisation Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
  • Pope Francis will address US Congress and appear in front of the Capitol building
  • Visit to St Patrick's Catholic Church in DC and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington
  • Depart DC for New York and do evening prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York
  • Pope Francis will attend the United Nations General Assembly
  • Multi-religious service at the 11 September Memorial and Museum
  • Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem neighbourhood
  • Motorcade through Central Park
  • Mass in Madison Square Garden
  • Pope Francis will arrive in Philadelphia and have a mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts Peter and Paul
  • Visit to Philadelphia's Independence Mall
  • Visit to the Festival of Families and a prayer vigil with the World Meeting of Families
  • Pope Francis will meet with Bishops at St Martin's Chapel and St Charles Borromeo Seminary
  • Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility
  • Papal Mass for the World Meeting of Families
  • Back to Rome
^ I hope that Pope Francis' visit to the US will help bring Americans (Catholics and non-Catholics) closer together as a country and also help ties between the US and the Vatican. So far Pope Francis has done a lot to make the Catholic Church a more modern institution. It is a very hard task as many things are centuries-old, but the Catholic Church has to get into the 2nd decade of the 21st Century if it wants to thrive for years to come. In the past it has been very secretive and good at hiding its abuses. The main thing that Pope Francis needs to portray to Americans is that the Catholic practices of "loving thy neighbor"  and "forgiving thy enemy" are real and not merely words on paper. Hopefully the Pope will be able to give that message and more to the people and his trip will be successful. ^

Two More Nazis

From the BBC:
"Woman, 91, charged over 'role' in 260,000 Auschwitz deaths"
A 91-year-old woman alleged to have worked at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz has been charged with 260,000 counts of accessory to murder, German prosecutors say. A spokesman said the former SS member is accused of serving as a radio operator for the camp commandant. It is argued she can be charged because she helped the death camp function. A former Nazi SS sergeant at Auschwitz, Oskar Groening, was convicted on that reasoning in July. A spokesman for prosecutors in the state of Schleswig-Holstein said on Monday there was no indication the woman was unfit for trial. It's thought a decision on whether to proceed with the case will be made next year. Separately, on Friday a court in western Germany said it was waiting to hear if a 93-year-old former Auschwitz guard was fit enough to stand trial. The man, identified in media reports as Reinhold Hanning, is accused of serving at Auschwitz between 1942 and 1944.   He denies 170,000 charges of accessory to murder and says he was assigned to a part of the camp that was not involved in the mass murders.  A spokeswoman for the court in Detmold said it could be several weeks before the health assessment is delivered. Mr Hanning's lawyer says he is not well enough to face trial.  Meanwhile, the court in Lueneberg that convicted Groening, 94, on Monday published its written judgement (in German). Groening - who became known as the "bookkeeper of Auschwitz" for counting banknotes confiscated from prisoners - was sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. The court broke away from the decades-old practice of requiring that former SS members be proven to have committed at least one crime before they can be convicted. The judgement argues that "all the defendant's activity in Auschwitz was characterised by the fact that it supported multiple murders, without providing support to specific individual acts". Lawyers argued that the presence of Groening and other SS members on an arrival ramp at Auschwitz meant he was guilty of an accessory role because it created a threatening impression. His role in taking care of prisoners' luggage deceived them that they would get their belongings back. In 2005 Groening admitted in a BBC documentary that he had been present on the ramp when selections for the gas chambers took place.  The court in Lueneberg has given Groening's defence team a month to appeal its judgement. Should the judgement come into force, an assessment will be made as to whether Groening is in a fit state to be jailed
^ I don't understand why the Germans aren't releasing this woman's name when they have released all the other Nazis' names. Every single person who was a Nazi (whether it was to get a promotion or to murder) and still alive today needs to be put on trial regardless if they live in Germany, Russia, Brazil, the US, etc. They can then clear their name or be convicted of their crimes. The de-nazification that occurred by the Allies after World War 2 wasn't thorough and allowed countless Nazis to go free and to even live in the open and receive government pensions. Back in the 1940s-1950s the world was in a chaotic mess dealing with rebuilding the bombed cities, helping the millions of displaced people and making sure their ideology (Communist or Capitalist) was in place in the areas they occupied. Of course that's no excuse why countries (especially West Germany) from the 1960s onwards didn't do more to bring the Nazis to justice. The main reason the Germans didn't do more back then is because the majority of the Nazis were still in the government and other positions of power and helped their friends. Then the next generation of Germans wanted to protect their parents from being sent to jail.  Now the Nazis are in their 80s, 90s and 100s and a new generation of Germans (the second, third and fourth generations born after 1945) are trying to right the wrongs of their parents and grandparents. For those that say these Nazis are too old to do any harm now I remind them how the Nazis treated the elderly Jews, Slavs, homosexuals, disabled, etc. They murdered them in barbaric ways without regard to age. They killed the very young and the very old. The least the Germans can now do is to put every Nazi on trial to face punishment for their crimes and even if these Nazis live a few more years it will bring a little justice to their victims they helped to murder. ^

Stalin Bill

From the MT:
"Russian Senator Introduces Bill Criminalizing Pro-Stalin Propoganda"
A high-ranking Russian senator has sought to combat the increasing promotion of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in the country by introducing a bill that would criminalize attempts to justify the dictator's totalitarian regime and political purges, state-run TASS news agency reported Tuesday. The bill introduced in the State Duma would equate advocacy of Stalin's purges with “extremism,” making it illegal in Russia, the report said. The bill was presented by a deputy chief of the constitutional law committee at the Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament, Konstantin Dobrynin, a senator from the northern Arkhangelsk region. “Recent years have brought increasing propaganda among the population of an idealized, one-sided [and] removed from historic reality image of Stalin's era” — propaganda that “inflicts tremendous harm on the Russian state and society,” Dobrynin said, TASS reported. The bill would also ban Russian authorities from naming streets, metro stations or other places in honor of people who had been “involved in the crimes of Stalin's totalitarian regime,” the bill was quoted by TASS as saying. Dobrynin argued that Russia needed to curtail attempts to “rewrite history,” independent Ekho Moskvy radio reported Monday. The bill comes on the heels of several monuments to Stalin being unveiled in regions throughout Russia. The nation's response to the monuments has revealed a growing rift over the dictator's role, with liberal politicians and activists harshly denouncing commemorations of Stalin, while Communist Party members and their allies applaud his increased popularity. A number of former Moscow allies — including Ukraine, the Baltic nations and countries in eastern Europe — have passed laws banning the public display of Soviet and Nazi symbols. Russia adopted a law last year criminalizing attempts to “rehabilitate Nazism,” but Moscow officials have been presenting an increasingly white-washed, glorified version of the country's own totalitarian past.
^ This is exactly what Russia needs. I really hope it passes, but won't hold my breath. Unfortunately, over the past several years Russia has been rewriting its own history and Stalin has been given a greater role than he has received since the Communists denounced him in the mid- 1950s. If people who knew and worked with Stalin saw him as a murderous dictator then you can imagine that is exactly what he was. Russia has a lot in its history to be proud of so there is no need for them to focus on the bad parts and rewrite them so they are good. Every country has its dark part that they have to deal with and Stalin is part of Russia's. Russians need to remember what Stalin did the same way Germans need to remember what Hitler did. That way the innocent victims will get justice and the Russian people can focus on their future and not glorify the crimes of their past. ^

Mechanical Ruling

From BoingBoing:
"European court orders airlines to pay compensation for delays from mechanical failures"
For years, airlines operating in Europe have had to pay compensation to delayed passengers, unless the delay was an "extraordinary circumstance." Airlines have characterized mechanical failures as extraordinary circumstances, and refused to pay out when their planes weren't working properly.   But last week, the European Court of Justice ruled against Dutch airline KLM in a case over compensation for mechanical failures. This has opened the gates to claims against all of Europe's airlines, from thousands of passengers who've faced delays due to mechanical failures.  Especially vulnerable are the low-cost airlines like Ryanair, who have made it a policy to abuse and ridicule passengers ("You're not getting a refund so fuck off. We don't want to hear your sob stories. What part of 'no refund' don't you understand?" -Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary) who seek compensation for delays. However, the battle is far from over. Since the supreme court verdict, thousands of people who have tried to lodge a claim have been fobbed off by airlines. This week, Britain’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, began enforcement action against Ryanair to make the budget airline pay compensation to thousands of delayed passengers in the wake of the European court judgment.  Londoner Alan Macdonald was delayed eight hours when his Ryanair flight from Malta to London was grounded. Check-in staff and the captain blamed a technical fault, but when passengers tried to claim, Ryanair mysteriously changed its story. “Adverse weather conditions” were suddenly the cause and, since these counted as “extraordinary circumstances” beyond the airline’s control, it insisted compensation was not payable.  “It was only in a letter sent a month after my claim that weather was mentioned,” Macdonald says. “In their initial email to passengers, they declared the delay as being due to unspecified ‘exceptional circumstances’ and provided a link to an out-of-date list of such circumstances, including those that have been declared null in UK courts. This led other passengers to think they have no scope to claim.”
^ Finally, some government organization is siding with the passengers rather than the airlines. I know this only applies to the EU, but hopefully it is a first-step and other countries (like Canada, the US, etc) will soon follow suit. I have had to deal with "mechanical problems" before both in the US as well as in the EU. For years the airlines have been allowed to treat their passengers as cattle while at the same time loosing their baggage, charging them for food, blankets, baggage, etc. They have also been allowed to over-book their flights and bump people off. They have been already to keep passengers on-board the plane, but still on the ground for hours. They have also been allowed to blame everything on mechanical problems and get away with not compensating the passengers. It is the airlines' responsibility to ensure that their crews, flight attendants, captains and planes are all in place and in working order and if one of those isn't and results in a delay then of course the passengers should get something for all their trouble. The only true delay is weather-related. Everything else is man-made and so the passengers affected should be compensated. The key thing now is to see if the EU actually keeps up with the airlines or if this is merely a PR stunt. ^

It's Trash Time

From the BBC:
"Kim Davis case: Kentucky clerk faces new legal challenge"'

Four couples have asked a US judge to order Kentucky clerk Kim Davis to reissue their marriage licences after she altered them to remove her name. Ms Davis, an elected official, opposes gay marriage and has said that her Christian faith should exempt her from signing those licences. She was jailed after she repeatedly refused to issue licences to gay couples, defying court orders.  The US Supreme Court declared gay marriage legal in June. Ms Davis, a Democrat who serves Rowan County, a rural area in eastern Kentucky, was released under the condition that she would not interfere as her deputy clerks issued marriage licences. However, once she returned to work Ms Davis removed her name from the licences and replaced it with the phrase "pursuant to federal court order".
Lawyers for the couples - two straight and two gay - questioned whether the altered licences are valid and said they "effectively feature a stamp of animus against the LGBT community".  The lawyers wrote that Ms Davis actions signal that: "the government's position is that LGBT couples are second-class citizens unworthy of official recognition and authorization of their marriage licenses but for this court's intervention and order".  The lawyers have suggested that the judge place the clerk's office in receivership so someone else would issue the licences. Ms Davis told ABC News on Tuesday she was prepared to return to jail if the judge ordered to stop altering the licences.  She said the licences are "not valid in God's eyes," but she disagreed with those who have called her homophobic. Because Ms Davis is an elected official, she cannot be fired. She could be impeached by the Kentucky legislature, but the body is not in session.

^ I think it's "funny" that a self-proclaimed martyr to keep marriage pure has been married and divorced so many times it's hard to know who she is currently married to. Come on KY just remove her from office already so the South stops looking like a piece of white trash to the rest of the country and the world. ^

Occupation Protest

From Yahoo:
"Crimea Tatars seek to block peninsula to protest Russian annexation"
Hundreds of pro-Kiev activists from Crimea's Tatar community on Sunday launched a blockade of roads from Ukraine to the Crimean peninsula to protest Russia's seizure of their home region.  Accompanied by members of the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist Pravy Sektor group, protesters from the Muslim Tatar community used concrete blocks to partially seal off the three roads linking mainland Ukraine to Crimea in an attempt to halt the delivery of goods.  Tatar leaders said they were aiming to block supplies to protest the "numerous violations of their rights by Russian authorities". "Our goal is to end the occupation of Crimea and to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine," Refat Chubarov, one of the leaders of the Crimean Tatar community, told journalists. An AFP journalist at the scene reported that dozens of lorries were backed up at two crossing points into Crimea but drivers and Ukrainian officials said this was due to lengthy custom checks on the Russian side. Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 after deploying thousands of special forces troops following the ouster of Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev.  Most of the 300,000-strong Tatar community strongly opposed Russia's annexation of Crimea, condemned by Kiev and the West as an illegal land grab, and have since faced a crackdown that has seen activists detained and leaders barred from the region.   The Tatars were exiled by Stalin to Central Asia during World War II, with almost half perishing in harsh conditions. They only returned to Crimea at the end of Soviet rule. The demonstrators said they hoped their actions Sunday would help to ease pressure on the members of the community, secure the release of detained Tatar activists and see restrictions on Tatar media lifted. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko later said on national television that he would raise the issue of "the rights of the Tatars of Crimea" at the General Assembly of the United Nations later this month. Between 10,000 and 15,000 members of the Tatar community -- which has its own distinct language and culture -- are thought to have fled Crimea since the Russian flag was raised there. Despite the takeover by Moscow, Crimea -- linked to Russia by only an over-burdened ferry link -- is still reliant on Ukraine for some of its energy and food supplies. The region has been subjected to tough Western sanctions that have seen it cut off from international banking systems and Western firms pull out.

^ Ukraine claims the Crimea to be Ukrainian. Russia claims the Crimea to be Russian. The Tartars are the only native group that can decide which country, if any, they want to be a part of. For nearly 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union they (the Tartars) have chosen to have autonomy within the Ukraine and have been pretty happen. Then the Russians decided to invade, occupy and annex the Crimea and try to make it part of Russia. The Russians have taken the same stance that Communists did and have tried to wipe out Crimean culture, language, traditions and way of life inside the Crimea. In the 1940s Stalin deported all the Crimean Tartars out of the Crimea and replaced them with Russians - the same way he did in the Baltics. The Tartars have since returned and are trying to reestablish their identity after decades of exile. Now with the Russians in control of the Crimea the Tartars are once again under attack and made second-class citizens on their own land. While this current protest won't force the Russians to give back the Crimea to the Ukraine and give the Tartars their land and rights back it does a lot to keep their plight in the news so that people in Russia, the Ukraine and the rest of the world know and remember that the Crimean Tartars already chose what they wanted (to be part of the Ukraine) and were flourishing for 20 years until the current annexation. ^