Sunday, January 31, 2016

Disabled Lego

From Disability Scoop:
"Lego Rolling Out Minifigure In Wheelchair"

Lego said it will include a boy in a wheelchair in a forthcoming set of its iconic minifigures. The toymaker confirmed the plan this week after a handful of websites that report on Lego revealed pictures and video of the new product taken at an industry event recently in Germany. The wheelchair will be part of a LEGO City set called “Fun in the Park” that will be available in June, said Michael McNally, senior director of brand relations for LEGO Systems, Inc.  This isn’t the first time that Lego has included a wheelchair in its product line but McNally said it does mark the “first wheelchair molded at LEGO minifigure scale.” Previously, McNally indicated that the company offered buildable wheelchairs and a LEGO DUPLO wheelchair. Lego and other toymakers have been encouraged to offer products representative of people with disabilities by the U.K.-based campaign Toy Like Me. “This move by Lego is massive in terms of ending cultural marginalization, it will speak volumes to children, disabled or otherwise, the world over,” the group’s founder, Rebecca Atkinson, said in a statement.
^ Every time a major company or organization does something like this it brings a good awareness to those that are disabled as well as those that are not disabled. ^

Driverless Pods

From the BBC:
"London's first driverless cars based on Heathrow 'pods'"
The first driverless cars to be tested on the streets of London will resemble the electric passenger shuttles currently in use at Heathrow Airport. The group behind the project is currently adapting the pods for use on the roads. It has yet to unveil the exact design but confirmed that the adapted vehicles will not run on dedicated tracks. Greenwich is one of four places in the UK where driverless pods and public reaction to them are being tested. Trials will also take place in Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes. The £8m project is jointly funded by government agency Innovate UK and industry. The Greenwich Automated Transport Environment project - or Gateway - will see seven driverless pods tested on the pavements around the Greenwich Peninsula, where the O2 Arena is based, from July. Routes are still being worked out but are likely to include residential areas, the North Greenwich underground station and businesses around the arena. The so-called UltraPods currently in service at Heathrow carry passengers between the car park and Terminal 5. In the five years they have been in use, they have carried 1.5 million passengers and travelled 1.8 million miles (three million kilometres).  Westfield Sportscars, a British carmaker, will be responsible for manufacturing and testing of the pods. Heathrow Enterprise will design the software while a third British firm, Oxbotica, will provide mapping and other sensors to ensure the vehicles are safe. The pods will have three months of testing, first with invited users and then with the general public. Each pod can carry six passengers but will require a steward to be present at all times to press the emergency button in the case of a problem.
^ I don't like the idea of being in a driverless car when it's on a track. I really don't like the idea of being in a driverless car that's not on a track. There are too many things that could go wrong (bad weather, a malfunction, etc.) ^

Housing Vets

From the LA Times:
"VA proposes hundreds of housing units plus services for homeless vets at West L.A. campus"
Federal officials released a blueprint Thursday for transforming the long-neglected West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus into a residential community with hundreds of housing units for homeless veterans, offering some potential relief as Los Angeles struggles to deal with an increase in homelessness across the city. The plan calls for construction of 1,200 permanent supportive housing units for disabled and traumatized veterans and more than 700 short-term units for homeless veterans in the midst of some of the city’s toniest neighborhoods. Some permanent housing could open as soon as next year, officials said, perhaps by adapting some of the 388-acre property’s historic buildings. The proposed new community would mark one of the most significant efforts to create new housing for the region’s rising homeless population, which is estimated to exceed 44,000 in Los Angeles County. The proposal includes a village for women, many of whom suffered sexual trauma in the military, gardens where veterans can relax and grow their own food, theaters, sports fields and gym facilities. Hammered out in months of meetings with veterans and community members, the project is also designed to serve as a beacon for non-homeless veterans, who can use the campus for recreation, cultural events and job development, as well as medical care, officials said.  “There’s amphitheaters, recreation facilities, everything for the physical health, the mental health and the spiritual health of veterans,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald said at a news conference. “They are going to try to make a community out of it,” said Steve Peck, president of U.S. Vets, a homeless veteran service group. Mayor Eric Garcetti last year vowed to house all homeless veterans by the end of 2015, but has since pushed back that deadline to later this year. He said Thursday that the number of homeless veterans in the city had dropped to fewer than 800. A survey last year estimated that there were about 2,700. Federal legislation must be approved to enable public-private partnerships to develop the housing. The development would be built on VA land and financed with public and private funds, backed by rent vouchers from the VA. Officials said the housing and services, as well as hundreds of federal rent subsidies for veterans that have flooded Los Angeles in recent years, would reverse the area’s distinction as the homeless veteran capital of the nation.
^ I hope this housing plan goes from thought to concrete. It could serve as a model for other cities and other states on how to help both homeless and non-homeless veterans. They did so much for us and for the most part the American Government and  the American people have forgotten them and that's just not right. We need to reverse that and start doing what we should have done the minute these men and women left the military. ^

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Obamacare Deadline

From Yahoo:
"Sunday night deadline for 2016 health insurance enrollment"

 Sunday night is the sign-up deadline for subsidized private health insurance under President Barack Obama's health care law. Administration officials say the deadline is 11:59 p.m. PST, or 2:59 a.m. EST Monday. That's for the 38 states using the website. is faster, more reliable and easier to use this year. But premiums have gone up. Fines are also going up for people who remain uninsured in 2016. The minimum penalty is $695 for someone who's uninsured the full year. States running their own insurance markets may have different deadlines. Maryland is giving its residents until Feb. 5, due to the effects of the recent East Coast blizzard.

^ Better hurry and get coverage or our "great" leader will get you. Many people who can't afford the required coverage and don't meet the requirements to receive government assistance in getting coverage will now be fined. I wonder if those people who liked Obamacare when it was first passed will feel the same now that the government is starting to check everyone's coverage and fine people. Obama is so worried about what his legacy will be when he leaves office (luckily we only have to wait a little less than a year.) His legacy will include crippling an already crumbling health care system by throwing millions upon millions of new people into it while doing very little to actually fixing the services and problems first. He could have done a great job and given the health care system the reform it needed and also give all Americans the coverage we need. Instead he threatened every American to take part in the crumbling system or face penalties. A smart person either flees a sinking ship or works to fix the ship so it won't sink before forcing more on-board. ^

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Military Quality

From Yahoo:
"Pentagon chief announces measures to improve quality of life for military"
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at improving the quality of life for those serving in the U.S. military, including a doubling of maternity leave for most personnel to 12 weeks. Carter said the all-volunteer military is primarily a married force, and making it more family-friendly and responsive to the changing needs of a new generation would allow it to attract and retain the best talent available. "We are not Google, we are not Walmart - we are war-fighters. But that doesn't mean we should not be challenging ourselves just like the private sector to modernize our workplace and workforce," the secretary told reporters at the Pentagon. Women make up about 15 percent of the U.S. military, and thousands of women have served alongside men in Iraq and Afghanistan. But many women leave the military at mid-career phases. Carter said women are "retained at a rate 30 percent lower than men across the services. He said 52 percent of the enlisted force and 70 percent of officers are married, and there are 84,000 military-to-military marriages. "What we do to strengthen quality of life for military families today and what we do to demonstrate that we are a family-friendly force to those we want to recruit is absolutely essential to our future strength," Carter said.
The measures Carter announced included:
- Setting paid maternity leave at 12 weeks for all services, double the current allowance for most personnel except for the 18 weeks offered by the Navy since last year. Carter said he had decided on the new level after weighing the "readiness cost." The 18 weeks would apply to Navy personnel currently pregnant.
- Increasing childcare provided at military facilities to 14 hours a day.
- Establishing nearly 3,600 mother's rooms in military facilities across the country to make it easier for breastfeeding mothers.
- Allowing family members to remain at a station of choice in exchange for additional active duty service.
- Covering the cost of freezing sperm or eggs through a pilot program for active duty service members.

^ As a military brat I know full well how the military often overlooks the spouses and children. The spouses and children have to endure long periods of separation and move to a new state or country all the time and yet there are few programs geared towards them. Military spouses (mostly wives) are just expected to stay at home and gossip. Military brats are just supposed to go to school and then home. The fact that whatever the spouse or child does directly affects the soldier's career shows that there needs to be more opportunities for all of them to do something productive while the soldier serves. If the soldier knows that the Military is taking care of their family then they can focus on their dangerous tasks and protect the country. ^

Russia's Legion

From the MT:
"Inside Russia's Would-Be Foreign Legion"
Four years ago, 18-year-old Vitaly Danilenko was conscripted into the Russian military after his family returned to Siberia from Alaska. Raised in America, the young conscript spoke very little Russian, and was unable to communicate with his comrades and superiors. This state of affairs lasted a mere two weeks before Danilenko went AWOL, deserting his post — a violation of Russian law that threatens up to seven years in prison — and going on the run. According to Russian media reports, his family said he fled because of the language barrier. No one was sure what to do with the young conscript. Russian military service laws, according to one Russian media report from the time, simply did not recognize inability to communicate in Russian as grounds for dismissal. No reports exist of his arrest. Danilenko's story serves as a cautionary tale to both the Russian military and foreigners who might be interested in joining its ranks and fighting in actual combat — an opportunity highlighted by President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 2, 2015, when he signed an order allowing foreigners to enlist. According to the Defense Ministry's official guidelines for foreign recruitment, any foreigner between the ages of 18 and 30 can enlist in the Russian military under a five-year contract, provided they can present proof from a Russian institution that they speak Russian, have no criminal record, and can pass a series of professional, psychological and medical exams administered by an official recruiter in Russia. The change was aimed at formalizing working relationships between the Russian military and citizens of Central Asian and former Soviet nations where Moscow has stationed troops and maintains bases, but does not explicitly deny Americans, or citizens of any nation, from joining. Despite well-documented instances of brutal hazing in the Russian military and the relatively low levels of pay enjoyed by Russian soldiers, news of Putin's foreign legion fell on receptive ears far beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. Broadly speaking, those Westerners interested in joining up appeared to hold relatively anti-establishment views — members of an audience that Russian foreign media outlets like RT deliberately target — or echoed positions championed by politicians such as Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. In this way, the allure of serving in Putin's military fits within the larger narrative of the Kremlin's success in engaging with and appealing to fringe elements of Western societies — taking advantage of their diverse nature by playing to the margins, where individuals often define themselves in opposition to the majority. The Defense Ministry's comparable language requirements have not stemmed interest from those who don't even have intermediate Russian, at least anecdotally. A former British Royal Air Force serviceman named Mark, who now resides in Australia, said that despite knowing just a handful of Russian phrases, he was "willing to take the oath [of service] for the Russian government and serve it well." Though Russian military leadership may entertain foreigners in their ranks, ordinary conscripts might not. As one soldier on the social networking site VKontakte told The Moscow Times: "Foreigners have no place in the Russian army!" 

^ This shown light on a topic that I didn't really know about. I knew about the bullying, hazing, low pay, etc. in the Russian military but not that so many non-former Soviet citizens were trying to join. What I don't really understand is there shouldn't be a shortage of manpower in the Russian military since technically every man has to serve (although I know only one person who didn't get a deferment, medical certificate or take military training in college, but actually served in the Military.) I guess even with Two Draft Call-ups every year the Russian Military needs to have non-Russian citizens to fill their ranks. As for the foreigners who serve. I believe that if you serve in another countries' military (unless your country is occupied - like Poles serving in the British Military during World War 2 when Poland was occupied by the Germans) then you have shown your true allegiance. If you are willing to risk your life for another country than you probably don't love your own country and so maybe that should be reflected when you try to come "home" after your military service is done. ^

Ottawa-Tehran Ties

From the G & M:
"Canada to lift sanctions against Iran, reopen Tehran embassy"
Canada will act “in a speedy fashion” to remove economic sanctions against Iran and normalize relations, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion has announced. Mr. Dion told Parliament Tuesday that the Islamic Republic of Iran has met United Nations-imposed conditions to curb its nuclear program under a landmark treaty worked out between major world powers and Tehran. The United Nations has asked the countries in question to lift the sanctions related to the treaty that is designed to prevent Iran from using nuclear weapons,” he said. “Canada will lift those sanctions.” Mr. Dion said Ottawa will also reopen the Canadian embassy in Tehran, closed by the Harper government in 2012. The Tories, he said, were wrong to cut off diplomatic ties to such an important player in the Middle East. “With the misleading approach of the former government, Canada is not in Iran,” Mr. Dion said in the House of Commons in response to a question on normalizing relations. “It is not good for the people of Iran, it is not good for the promotion of human rights, it is not good for our strategic interests in the region, it is not good for Israel. It is good for nobody. We will change this policy.” A senior official told The Globe and Mail that the government “for sure would be reopening the embassy as the Prime Minister has promised to do so for more than a year.” The official did not say when diplomatic relations would be re-established. Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Rafael Barak, called Ottawa’s moves on Iran an “internal Canadian affair” but went on to warn that Iran “remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world.” “Iran is a sponsor of international terrorism, including terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which hides more than 80,000 missiles in densely populated cities in Lebanon, targeting most of Israel,” Mr. Barak said in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
^ I recently wrote about Canada and Russia so it seems a little odd to hear about Canada and Iran so soon. The Trudeau Government may be biting more than they can chew. If they can re-establish good ties with both Russia and Iran without simply giving in to them then it could be a positive move, but if they just rush through disregard reality than it will make Canada a puppet country. ^

25 Year Crackdown

From the DW:
"Lithuania prosecutes ex-Soviet soldiers over Cold War crackdown"

Lithuanian authorities have opened a mass trial against 65 former Soviet officials for their role in a deadly 1991 crackdown. Only two defendants appeared in court, with many others believed to be in Russia. The trial, which started on Wednesday, deals with the aftermath of the Soviet military push against Lithuanian independence. Moscow's show of force in Vilnius saw 14 people dead and over 1,000 more injured in January 1991. The prosecutors claim that the 65 defendants were involved in war crimes, torture, crimes against humanity and other offenses. However, only two defendants attended the beginning of the mass trial, both of them soldiers. KGB officers, members of the Communist party and military leaders are also among the accused, including the last Soviet defense minister Dmitry Yazov. Lithuanian officials intend to trial almost all of them in absentia, after Russia refused to extradite a large number of suspects. Both of the defendants who appeared before the court are Russian citizens. They pleaded not guilty, saying that they simply followed orders. "I could not make any decisions on my own," former paratrooper Genady Ivanov told journalists ahead of the hearing. Ivanov also said he handed over his resignation immediately after the crackdown, adding that he cooperated with Lithuanian investigators ahead of his trial. The ex-Soviet officer currently lives in Lithuania . The second defendant, Yuri Mel, was arrested by border police in 2014. He was allegedly inside one of the Soviet tanks on the streets of Vilnius during the raid. The fist leader of Lithuania after the Soviet break up, Vytautas Landsbergis, welcomed the start of the trial, but added that those responsible would probably not face justice. He also said "the main suspect was left out, it is Mikhail Gorbachev," referring to the last Soviet president. Gorbachev resigned less than a year after the crackdown. Hundreds of witnesses are expected to appear at the trial, which could last for several months.
^ It is now 25 years since these events took place and the USSR collapsed. This trial is more a symbol than anything else. I think the people involved should be tried by the World Court since it would show Russia and the world that it is fair (I'm not saying that Lithuania couldn't be fair, but it would hold more weight.)

Past Struggling

From Yahoo:
"Romania struggles to confront Holocaust past"
More than 70 years after the Holocaust, the suffering of survivors in Romania is often overlooked or played down, even if the country has taken some steps towards recognising what happened, historians and survivors say.  After denying its role in the Holocaust for years, in 2003 Romania set up an international commission of historians led by survivor and Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel to look into the matter. Its report said between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews died during the Holocaust in territories run by the pro-Nazi Romanian regime of Ion Antonescu from 1940-1944. But historian Alexandru Climescu said understanding of this dark chapter in Romania's history was still poor and he warned against a tendency to put the blame for massacres and deportations to the Nazi death camps on German forces. He points to the case of two Romanian officers jailed after the war for their part in a notorious pogrom in Iasi, in the country's north, in which some 13,000 Jews perished in June 1941. The two men were cleared posthumously in 1998 after an unusual appeal by the state prosecutor who put the blame on the Germans, saying the two men were simply obeying orders. "Acquitting those who were nicknamed the Eichmanns of Romania... is to deny again that the deportations in the north and the Iasi pogrom itself even took place," Climescu said. Iancu Tucarman, 92, who survived the Iasi massacre -- in which Jews were gunned down by guards and suffocated in overcrowded train wagons -- also condemned the court's decision. "In my wagon, 137 Jews were put on board instead of 45, the normal capacity for a wagon transporting goods. After a nine-hour ordeal, only eight were still alive and got off the wagon," he said. "If war criminals can win their legal cases, that means their crimes didn't take place," Tucarman added. "Can the victims also ask the courts to cancel their deaths?" Alexandru Florian, director of the Elie Wiesel National Institute for Studying the Holocaust in Romania, shares his indignation. "Public institutions are sometimes contributing to the rewriting of history and they are twisting it. Those two officers will now forever remain 'innocent' from a legal point of view," Florian said. There are now around 5,700 Jews living in Romania, down from some 800,000 before World War II. And while the Holocaust survivors interviewed by AFP said they do not experience regular anti-Semitism, polls suggest more than one in 10 Romanians say they don't want anything to do with Jews. "For decades under the communist regime there was an attempt to destroy the memory," said Liviu Beris, 88, another survivor. "The mindset people have, formed under this regime, it can't change overnight." Recognising Romania's role in the Holocaust has been accompanied in recent years by more concrete measures including school lessons and laws banning Holocaust denial, Climescu told AFP. But he warned "symbolic acquittals" are still going on, giving the example of war criminals being made "citizens of honour" in some towns, streets still bearing Antonescu's name and museums showing the wartime leader in a heroic light. "The biggest danger is that people who directly contributed to the persecution and extermination of Jews might be legitimised in the public view as symbols, martyrs and heroes," he said.

^ The Nazis were not the only ones who directly participated in the Holocaust. They had immense help from regular Germans and from citizens in every part of Europe that was occupied. That fact tended to be hidden by countries for decades after 1945 so they all could be seen as "victims." The truth is well-known around the world and so it's important that countries in Europe stop lying to themselves, their citizens and the world and admit the truth. Every country has a dark past and the sign of a truly great  country is that they can admit their past mistakes and work to make sure they never happen again. Romania has started on that path, but they (like several others) still have a long way to go. ^

Bridging The Gulf

From the DW:
"The vast gulf between Russians and Ukrainians"
Russia has been sending conciliatory signals to Kyiv, but many Ukrainians are skeptical. The general consensus among Ukrainians is that a revival of the old friendship with Moscow will be difficult.  The gigantic metal rainbow still stands on the hilly bank of the Dnipro River in Kyiv. Built during the Soviet era, the monument is a reminder of the "union of Ukraine with Russia" in 1654, when Ukrainian Cossacks sought protection from the czar in Moscow. Since the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the war in eastern Ukraine, the monument pays tribute to something that no longer exists: friendship between the two countries. The sculpture shows solidarity between a Russian and a Ukrainian. Today, the base of the monument is adorned by obscene words directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Serhiy Zelowalnik would like to have the arch demolished. "What kind of a friendship is it, when Russian troops have come here with tanks," defiantly states the former chief architect of the Ukrainian capital in an interview with DW in September 2015. However, authorities in Kyiv have probably decided that the monument – "the yoke" as the people derisively refer to it – should stay there. In the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, however, a column symbolizing Russian-Ukrainian friendship was dismantled in November. Yet the Russian side has been increasingly sending signals of reconciliation to Kyiv. "In the end, normal relations between our countries will certainly be restored," said Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian Security Council and Putin confidante, on Tuesday in a newspaper interview. Similar messages were also heard from the Kremlin and from the Russian foreign ministry. "Moscow is ready for a constructive dialogue with Kyiv." In the core issues, however, Russia remains adamant: the status of Crimea is not negotiable. At the end of December a "page of friendship" went online in Russia. The URL already suggests that Russians and Ukrainians are one people ( and should thus put conflicts aside. The page portrays itself as a platform "without politics and propaganda" and promotes a direct dialogue with citizens. It is unclear who is behind the project – there is no site notice on the website.  Russian embassies in Ukraine still encounter great suspicion. "What friendship with Russia?" criticized a popular Ukrainian blogger at the beginning of January. "Look at our men who have lost arms and legs in this war! Stop looking at Russia as a 'brother nation'." Quite a few people in Ukraine agree with the young Kyiv poet, Anastasia Dmytruk. Her poem addressing Russians after the Crimean annexation called "We will never be brothers" is still very popular in the country. The video of Dmytruk reciting the poem has been viewed on YouTube over six million times. Volodymyr Paniotto does not believe that the Ukrainians will soon love the Russians again. "This is a very difficult process," said the director of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KMIS). Too much damage has been done. According to his institute's survey, the Ukrainians' positive attitude toward Russia declined dramatically after the annexation of Crimea: from 78 percent in February 2014 to 30 percent in May 2015. At first glance it may seem all the more surprising that the negative attitude towards the other side in Russia is even more pronounced than in Ukraine. In a recent survey conducted by Moscow's Levada Center, 59 percent of Russians said their perception of Ukraine is negative. Only 27 percent disagreed. The reason for this was Russian propaganda against Ukraine and the people who live there, says Lev Gudkov, head of the center. The Moscow sociologist views recent Russian overtures to Ukraine as a tactical maneuver. "I believe that these signals are a game, an attempt to soften the West's sanctions and the pressure on Russia," says Gudkov, "it does not help resolve the confict with Ukraine."

^ It took years and sometimes decades for Europeans to trust the Germans after World War 2, but now the majority are part of the European Union, which Germany basically runs, and things seem to have turned out well. It took about 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union for countries in Eastern Europe that was once dominated and occupied by the Soviets to start to trust Russia (the sole successor of the USSR) and now all that has gone downhill with the Crimea Crisis and the Donbass War. The Ukraine has had to overcome its Soviet history, the effects of Chernobyl, several violent demonstrations, and invasion/occupation and annexation of part of their territory as well as a war in the eastern part of their country while at the same time trying to reform their laws, end corruption, improve their economy and enhance bilateral ties with other countries. Do I believe that Russia and the Ukraine will improve their countries' ties? If Russia returns the Crimea and stops supporting the ethnic Russians fighting in eastern Ukraine then I think the Ukrainians will be willing to open themselves back to things Russian. Until that happens I only see the Ukraine moving further out of the "Russian sphere of influence" and towards the EU/US. That would make Russia even more paranoid than they already are, but right now it's the Ukraine's only chance of survival since they are a small country trying to keep their independence while one of the largest countries in the world attacks them. The ball is now in Russia's court. They can easily end all of this violence and insecurity if they really wanted to. ^

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

WWI Memorial

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Top WWI memorial design: 'The Weight of Sacrifice'"
The winning design for a World War I memorial, announced Tuesday, pays tribute to freedom gained through sacrifice, combining classic and modern elements. “The Weight of Sacrifice” by Chicago architect Joe Weishaar and New York sculptor Sabin Howard was one of five finalists in a design competition that had nearly 350 submissions. Each of the finalists won a $25,000 prize and were linked with professional architectural firms to develop their concepts. The design, to be built in Pershing Park in downtown DC, features a raised lawn and statues surrounded by bronze walls with bas-relief sculpture. A description of the design concept reads in part: “Each cubic foot of the memorial represents an American soldier lost in the war; 116,516 in all. Upon this unified mass spreads a verdant lawn. This is a space for freedom built upon the great weight of sacrifice.” The concept has to be approved, and changes are expected during that process. If the design passes all regulatory and review hurdles, the monument should be in place by Nov. 11, 2018, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which initially marked the close of WWI but now is referred to as Veterans Day in the United States.
 ^ It is long over-due. We have national memorials to World War 2, Korea and Vietnam, but not a national memorial to World War 1. I personally like the design of this memorial and hope it gets approved and built quickly. ^

Ottawa-Moscow Ties

"TASS: Canada ready to mend ties with Russia that soured over Ukraine"

Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion signaled on Tuesday Ottawa's readiness to resume a dialogue with Russia that stopped over the developments in Ukraine, according to Russian news agency TASS.   "Canada was speaking to the Russians even at the tough times of the Cold War, and now we are not speaking, almost not, because of the former policy of the former government," Stephane Dion said on Tuesday, TASS wrote. "We have a lot of disagreements with the government of Russia but it's certainly not the way to stop speaking with them when the Americans speak with them and all the Europeans, the Japanese, everybody except Canada," Dion added. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference on Tuesday that Russia and Canada were interested and were ready to resume bilateral partnership suspended by the government of Stephen Harper. "Russia is interested in good relations with all countries. That is why, when we say we are ready for cooperation with the West, we certainly mean Canada as well," Lavrov said. "We have common tasks and common interests in what concerns Arctic development and cooperation in northern latitudes in general as well as positive experience in economic, trade and other cooperation," he said, adding that "despite ups and downs in our relations" "each time common sense prevailed eventually." The recent two years have been "the time of missed opportunities" for both Russia and Canada, Lavrov said. In November 2015 Russian President Vladimir Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met on the sidelines of G20 summit, Lavrov said, where "both sides expressed wish, readiness and engagement in normalization of relations." "We assume that practical steps should be taken by our partners who announced their intention to rectify mistakes made by their predecessors," the minister said.

^ Now the real test is coming for Trudeau and his government. So far he has only done cosmetic changes and now we will see what this government is really capable of. If they become too friendly with Russia without the Crimea being returned to the Ukraine or the fighting in eastern Ukraine ending then Canada will become a laughing-stock, pushover country around the world. The fact that Canada has a large and politically powerful Ukrainian population is also something to consider. There is a fine line that must be followed. You don't want to be too aggressive towards Russia (because they tend to be a very paranoid attitude towards foreigners and foreign-influence within their country) but at the same time you can't just sit-back and let them break the international treaties they signed in support of a Ukrainian Crimea and invade, occupy and annex the Crimea with no consequences. I'll be following how Canada implements this new dialogue. ^

Auschwitz: 71

From Forward:
"Auschwitz Ceremony To Mark 71st Anniversary of Camp's Liberation"
President Andrzej Duda of Poland and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic of Croatia are expected to attend the ceremony at the Auschwitz memorial marking the 71st anniversary of the concentration camp’s liberation. Dozens of survivors and their relatives will also be on hand for Wednesday’s commemoration. Red Army troops liberated Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945 — the United Nations has designated the date as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Nazis murdered 1.1 million people at Auschwitz-Birkenau, mostly Jews, but also Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners. The commemoration features the theme “Returns.” “Remembering all the victims, in a special way, during the upcoming anniversary, we want to mention people who, despite enormous trauma, attempted to return to normal life,” Piotr Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz Museum, said in a statement. Some survivors returned to their families and to ruined cities, such as Warsaw, which was destroyed by the Germans. “Others tried to restore a normal life after the hell of the Holocaust, and created, among others, the new State of Israel,” Cywinski said. On Tuesday, there will be a meeting with Andrzej Pilecki, the son of a Polish resistance fighter who was voluntarily imprisoned in Auschwitz. After escaping from the camp, Witold Pilecki authored the first comprehensive Allied intelligence report on the genocide in Auschwitz and on the Holocaust. In 1948 he was sentenced to death for treason by the Communist authorities. A record 1.72 million visitors came to the Auschwitz memorial in 2015, the museum announced earlier this month. On Saturday, the museum published a report on its activities in 2015. “Seventy years after the war our modern world increasingly worries us,” Cywinski wrote in his introduction to the report. “We all see and feel the growth of populism, xenophobia, nationalism, anti-Semitism, terrorism, wars. Meanwhile, we know well — too well — where power of hatred leads.”

^ It's important to remember the men, women and children that were brutally murdered by the Germans and their collaborators. It doesn't matter if it happened 1 year ago. 71 years or 1,001 years ago. It was the first time in human history that  the murder of innocent people was carefully planned and implanted. The survivors of the Holocaust are dying out and so every effort needs to be made right now to record their stories and experiences. Visiting a museum or a death camp helps to bring the horror out of a page, but seeing or listening to someone who actually went through those horrible events makes things even more clear. I have made numerous Holocaust survivors and while each one's story is different their experiences are based on the same events. ^

Holocaust Remembrance

Monday, January 25, 2016

Holocaust Art

From DW:
"'Holocaust commemoration part of Germany's national memory': Merkel"
Speaking at the opening of a new exhibition, Chancellor Angela Merkel has emphasized the importance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. She said the Nazis' brutalities were part of Germany's common memory.  Merkel, who inaugurated the "Art from the Holocaust" exhibition on Monday in Berlin, said the works had a lot of "authenticity and originality" and that they afforded an insight into the unimaginable sufferings of Jewish prisoners before and during World War II. The exhibition is displaying works by 100 Jewish prisoners who lived in concentration camps, work camps and ghettos during the Nazi regime. The works of art - mostly pictures housed at Israel's Yad Vashem memorial - are being shown in Germany for the first time. Merkel described the exhibition as an "exemplary project of German-Israeli relations." The cordial ties between Berlin and Tel Aviv were not to be taken for granted, but seen as a "miracle," she said. Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem's director, told the audience that only about half of the 50 artists exhibited in Berlin had survived the Holocaust. He called the works rare witnesses of history, serving as a spark of humanity among the gruesome crimes. The works were also described as irreplaceable historical documents by Alexander Koch, president of Stiftung Deutsches Historisches Museum, the German historical museums foundation. The paintings showed "the strength of human spirit, the firmness of will and the freedom of art," he said. The exhibition was initiated by Kai Diekmann, editor of German newspaper "Bild," who emphasized that there was no way anti-Semitism could have a place in the Germany of today. According to Diekmann, this was the true message of the works of art, which were created by people "in the darkest moment of history and the darkest time of their own lives." The exhibition, which opens two days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, runs until April 3.
^ International Holocaust Remembrance Day is on January 27th (when Auschwitz was liberated) and so it is a good thing to have these kinds of exhibits to give people a chance to learn about the crimes committed during the Holocaust. ^

Commies Banned

"Ban of Communist Party final: Ukraine’s Supreme Administrative Court"

The Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine upheld a ban of the Communist Party of Ukraine, the press service of the Justice Ministry reported.   According to the ministry, the Supreme Administrative Court overturned the Party’s appeal to open proceedings challenging the legal opinion of the Commission on compliance with the Law of Ukraine "On the condemnation of the Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) totalitarian regimes in Ukraine and prohibition of promotion of their symbols. "The Supreme Administrative Court found that "the appeal is unfounded while the arguments set out in it are not the base for reviewing the case, since the applicant did not give reasons for believing that the court incorrectly applied the rules of substantive or procedural law." This judgment of the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine can not be appealed. Thus, the administrative courts have come to the conclusion that the arguments of the representatives and lawyers of the Communist Party of Ukraine are not grounded. That is, the validity of mentioned conclusion and the ban of the Communist Party, have finally been confirmed. As UNIAN reported earlier, on July 8, 2014, the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine and Ukraine’s State Registration Service have lodged a claim with the District Administrative Court of Kyiv to ban the activities of the Communist Party of Ukraine. The lawsuit stated: "The CPU performs actions aimed at forceful change of the constitutional order, violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, propaganda of war, violence, incitement of ethnic hatred, encroachment on human rights and freedoms; as well as representatives of the Communist Party systematically appeal to the creation of paramilitary groups." On December 16, Kyiv’s District Administrative Court satisfied the claim of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine in full, banning the activities of the Communist Party of Ukraine, according to the court’s official website.

^ Only people who have lived in a Communist dictatorship (like the Ukrainians) can know the full extent of the horrors of Communism. On paper it sounds great, but in practice it has never lead to anything except for censorship, repression and death. I know as an American I am supposed to support everyone's right to believe in everything, but I think there are exceptions and that Communist parties, Nazi/Neo-Nazi parties, the KKK and other like groups should be banned along the same lines as terrorist groups like Al-Qaida and ISIS. People should only be allowed to participate in groups and organizations that DO NOT call for violence. ^

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snow Duty

From USA Today:
"Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guards unfazed by weather"

The federal government is closed and the snow-covered roads in the Washington area are quiet, but the soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are braving the elements. "These guys want to be here, they work hard to stay here," says Sergeant of the Guard, Sgt. 1st Class Tanner Welch. "The guys in Afghanistan they can't stop because of snow. Guys in the mountains of Korea didn't stop because it was snowing." For 24 hours a day, 365 days a year since 1937, in all kinds of weather, men guard the resting place of three unnamed servicemembers in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The guards are handpicked members of the the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as "The Old Guard."  "When you are out there you know that no matter how miserable the weather makes you, the people on the ground, they all suffered way worse than we are experiencing in the 30 minutes or hour we are out there," says Spc. John Arriaga, 23, of San Antonio, Texas. Arriaga has served as a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown for a little over a year. "Right when you cross the threshold of the chains — it's like nothing else even matters," Arriaga says. "It is just 21 steps, 21 seconds — you and the three unknowns. It's a feeling I can't even explain." The safety of the guards is important, Welch says. Thursday, amid a winter storm that had dumped several inches of snow on the nation's capital, the guards will don an overcoat, a warmer hat and warmer gloves than the standard uniform. Other than that, it's business as usual. "The accomplishment of the mission and welfare of the soldier is never put at risk," the guard's website states. "The tomb guards have contingencies that are ready to be executed IF the weather conditions ever place the soldiers at risk of injury or death — such as lightning, high winds, etc." "We do modify slightly for weather when it becomes a major safety concern — lightning, snow, cold and frostbite, heat and heat stroke," Welch says. "But for 76 years now we have had ample opportunity to figure out how we are going to handle these conditions. We are always ready." The all-volunteer guards focus on the sacrifice of the unknown soldiers they are honoring instead of the bitter cold. "These unknowns — we don't even have their names and they gave everything for their country," says Sgt. Thomas Ozio, 22, of Dayton, Ohio. "So I give everything I can to these unknowns." "I woke up and it was pretty cold," Ozio says with a laugh. "But I looked out my window and thought about how everybody else is off in the government. We are the few going into work and doing what we do best."

^ For everyone hunkering down and complaining about the snow they should stop and think about these men and women who can't take a day off no matter what. ^


From USA Today:
"US snowstorm: Mammoth blizzard shuts New York City"
All non-essential travel has been banned in New York, transport suspended and bridges shut as the city is hit by one of its worst snowstorms. Parts of the eastern United States have received 40in (102cm) of snowfall in a huge blizzard that is sweeping across the region. Travel restrictions in New York came into place at 14:30 (19:30 GMT). Mayor Bill de Blasio said up to 25in snow may fall, making it one of the five worst winter storms in the city. Heavy snow began falling on Friday across more than 20 states, affecting some 85 million people. At least 13 people have died and emergencies have been declared in 11 states. Tens of thousands of homes are without power and traffic jams lasting more than 12 hours were reported in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
The heaviest unofficial snowfalls recorded by mid-afternoon included:
  • 40in (102cm) - Berkeley County, West Virginia
  • 35.5in (90cm) - Morgan County, West Virginia
  • 34in (86cm) - Washington County, Maryland
The weather system affects a huge swathe of the country, from Alabama in the south to Massachusetts in the north-east. New York City could be on course to top its highest snowfall, 26.9in, recorded in February 2006.
In the latest developments in New York:
  • Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared a state of emergency
  • Almost all flights into the city have been cancelled
  • Tunnels into New York have also been closed
  • Emergency vehicles and workers carrying out repairs are being allowed to use roads - but those driving non-essential vehicles risk being arrested
  • Above-ground and subway train services were suspended from 16:00 local time (21:00 GMT)
In other developments:
  • More than 4,300 flights were cancelled in the eastern US on Saturday alone
  • One man died on Saturday of an apparent heart attack while shovelling snow in Maryland; the other 12 to die since the storm hit the US were killed in car accidents
  • More than 150,000 properties lost power in North Carolina
  • Another 90,000 people were without power in New Jersey, while high tides have led to some heavy flooding in the south of the state
  • States of emergency have been declared in New York, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia
The US federal government closed down at noon on Friday. President Obama is remaining at the White House. In a warning on Saturday morning, the National Weather Service tweeted that an "intense snow band" was moving across the eastern states. "Expect rapid accumulations and near-whiteout conditions," it warned.
^ I know that it's the first major snowstorm of the season, but not the first major snowstorm for the Northeast. Unless you just moved from a place that never gets snow there's no reason to panic. Unlike tornados, earthquakes and hurricanes the only thing you can do for a snowstorm is stay where you are. This nor'easter is staying 2 hours south of where I live so we aren't getting it on my mountain, but in the last 7 years that I have lived here I have seen my fair share of nor'easters and major snowstorms (and also from when I lived in Russia, Massachusetts and New York.) In the Fall I always make sure I have a full propane tank, check the generator, make sure I have enough buckets of dirt and rock salt, restocked my pantry and fridge and throughout the winter I make sure I have a full tank of gas along with several gas cans (for the snowblower.) Last winter we got at least 1 foot of snow every few days for several months so I know how annoying it is to shovel and clear the snow. ^

Friday, January 22, 2016

Tracking Failures

From USA Today:
"Government's failure to track foreign visitors angers Congress"
In a rare scene of bipartisan agreement in Congress, senators from both parties hammered Department of Homeland Security officials Wednesday over their inability to create a program to accurately track all foreign visitors who leave the country. The hearing came a day after the department released the first-ever report on the number of foreigners who legally enter the USA and are suspected of staying in the country after their visas expired. That number totaled 482,781 in 2015, a tiny fraction of nearly 45 million legal foreign visitors last year. The department compiled that data largely using plane manifests and other information shared by airlines. But since 2004, the department has been required by Congress to capture biometric information, such as fingerprints or iris scans, from every passenger leaving the country. So far, the department has tested out different pilot programs to do that but cannot say when it will be able to start capturing that information for all departing passengers. Homeland Security officials explained that they've been working on a solution but have been unable to complete it because of the way U.S. ports of entry are designed. In Europe, for example, many airports have separate areas for domestic and international flights. Foreigners entering U.S. airports are funneled through Customs checkpoints, but departing flights leave from all terminals and all gates. Wagner offered different scenarios to show the difficulty of tracking passengers in that kind of environment. If the biometric data are collected when passengers check in for their flight at an airport terminal, passengers can simply submit their fingerprints, check in for their flights and then walk out of the airport. Their records would indicate they left, but they actually remain in the country. Wagner said the agency also tested out a plan where Customs officers use handheld devices to gather biometric information as people are boarding a plane. But he said that would lead to unreasonable delays for all flights and could cost more than $1 billion to hire enough Customs officers to handle each outbound flight. "It can take two hours to board the plane (that way), but that's not feasible," Wagner said. "The cost is going to be tremendous to do that." That did not satisfy the senators on the panel. Republicans and Democrats alike pointed out the national security risk that remains as long as the system is not finalized.  Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., read from the DHS report to show how many foreigners from countries with terrorist ties overstayed their visas last year: 219 from Afghanistan, 681 from Iraq, 440 from Syria, 219 from Yemen. "This is the very essence of open borders," Sessions said. "Anyone can come in, no one has to leave." Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., agreed. "This is about national security, and it's hard for me to envision that we can't figure out where to get space to do this at an airport or seaport." DHS officials said they would continue working on three separate pilot programs to implement a full biometric exit process. One is using facial-recognition software at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. A separate test is being conducted at 10 of the nation's largest airports, where Customs and Border Patrol officers use handheld devices to get the information at departure gates. And a third test is using kiosks at a land border in San Diego where people entering the country have their irises scanned. Wagner said he would report the results of those pilot programs back to Congress.
^ It is pretty pathetic that the US can do so many innovative things and yet can not accurately tell whether a person has entered or left the country (legally I mean.) I have been to numerous countries that have immigration when you enter that country and immigration when you leave that country. Considering that the US requires citizens and non-citizens to give their passport details when they book an international flight it shouldn't be that hard to use that data, along with the airlines data to make sure the person actually left the country. I have had several foreign friends that had to "fight" with Homeland Security to prove they left the US on-time because the airline didn't give Immigration their departure form. This whole mess shouldn't take a genius to fix and yet it seems we aren't as smart as other countries in this respect. ^

Squirrel Day

                         Make sure to hug a squirrel. Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day!

Crimea Push

From Reuters:
"Ukraine plans new diplomatic push to recover Crimea: Finance Minister"

Ukraine plans soon to launch a fresh diplomatic initiative to recover the Crimean peninsula from Russia which annexed it in 2014, Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko told Reuters on Wednesday. "We don't agree that Crimea has gone. This will be the year we really begin pressing forward on a process to return Crimea," Yaresko said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula in March 2014 in a military operation denounced by the West, which imposed retaliatory sanctions to punish Moscow that remain in place.   More recently Ukraine cut power supplies to the region and its president, Petro Poroshenko, said power would be restored if Crimea were recognized as part of Ukraine. However, Russia has given no sign that it would ever consider returning Crimea, which has a majority ethnic Russian population and holds a special place in Russian history and culture. Last month Moscow issued a new banknote dedicated to Crimea. Yaresko said Ukraine aimed to create a forum along the lines of the so-called Geneva format, a body that included Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States and operated briefly in 2014. Russia has ruled out reviving the forum. "We are looking to establish something bigger than the Geneva format to begin dialogue on how to return Crimea to Ukraine," Yaresko said. Some legal experts believe Ukraine can successfully use Crimea's annexation as a lever against Russia if Moscow carries out its threat to take Kiev to a British court over non-payment of a $3 billion debt
^ It's nice to see the Ukraine and the Ukrainians aren't one to give-up so easily. They have suffered before (during Czarist and Soviet times) and so have had to overcome repression, war, dictatorships before. They may not be able to win back the Crimea or eastern Ukraine militarily, but hopefully they will succeed in these other ways especially since Russia's economy is near collapse and ordinary Russians are paying for their government's actions the same way they did in 1991 and 1998. ^

Wheelchair Travel

From Disability Scoop:
"Around The World In A Wheelchair"
Cory Lee Woodard’s muscular dystrophy put him in a wheelchair at age 4, but it hasn’t kept him from swimming in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon or enjoying Malibu beaches. Now, at age 25, his highly successful travel blog, Curb Free with Cory Lee, has sent him around the world a few times and won him more than 12,000 Twitter followers, 4,500 Facebook fans and over 8,500 Instagram followers. Advertising revenues from the blog, sponsorships and sales from his eBook, “Air Travel for Wheelchair Users,” fund his trips. This month, the Lafayette, Ga., native is heading to Finland. He names the alarmingly perky Travel Channel host Samantha Brown as “my No. 1 idol” as far as travel journalism is concerned. And, while Woodard is sweet and sunshine-y, his optimism is tempered by reality.  “Muscular dystrophy is a disease that worsens as you grow older, doctors tell me, so I am trying to travel as much as I can now while I’m young,” Woodard says with no hint of drama or self-pity. His success is still very new. When he graduated college in 2013 with a marketing major, his job search was discouraging. He designed a beautiful layout for his website and decided to focus on it. “If it wasn’t able to support me financially in a year, I promised myself I’d put it aside,” he says. “I made my deadline because my first piece that went viral was the 10 Most Wheelchair Accessible Beaches. The LA Times travel editor interviewed me about it in November 2014. Then the advertising revenue and sponsorships began coming.” He plans his global treks from a pretty, white-frame house near a big, dark-green pond surrounded by evergreens. To get there is a long, winding drive past horse farms and fields of cattle. His schoolteacher mother cultivated his love of travel with road trips and a dazzling high school graduation gift – a tour of Germany’s fairytale Black Forest villages, as well as Munich and Frankfurt. Woodard also won trips to the 2007 Global Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C. and President Barack Obama’s 2004 inauguration. He interned at Disney World, where his job was to entertain children waiting in a gargantuan line to meet Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse. “It’s really not that easy to find a lot of wheelchair travel information in one place; Germany’s tourism website is wonderful and has maps videos on where to find ramps and elevators at historic sites,” Woodard says. “But most tourism bureaus don’t even think of mentioning it.” Woodard travels with his mother, his best friend in Germany or an adult caregiver, so he always has someone to help him in and out of the wheelchair and to look out for him. But he realizes many wheelchair travelers are going solo. “There are some places you realize are just not going to be practical for you in Europe,” Woodard says. “Paris is one of my favorite trips of all time. But the Metro (subway), which works perfectly for most tourists, can be terrible for anyone in a wheelchair. Elevators are almost impossible to find. The only wheelchair-accessible taxi I could find cost 650 euros ($709) to book for the day. “I share what I find out on my blog; it can be really difficult to figure out what is wheelchair accessible and what isn’t if you look at most tourism sites.” For example, those beautiful Belle Epoque train stations in France’s Brittany, Normandy and Comte regions often have flights of stone steps to the train platform but no elevators, he says. But in Australia’s Sydney and Melbourne, “every historic site, every building, club, restaurant, hotel seemed to be wheelchair accessible,” he says, beaming happily at the memory. He believes such accommodations are the future for travelers with disabilities. Technology is spawning wheelchairs that handle sandy beaches, volcanic rock and muddy forests. And retired baby boomers who can afford to travel want to do so despite bad hips and bum knees, Woodard notes.

^ I have travelled around the world with someone in a wheelchair and have found the most difficulty in countries/places you wouldn't really think about like the US, the UK, Ireland. Those places have strict laws about making things accessible, but just because it is a law doesn't  mean it's followed or enforced. I am still impressed with my trip to Bosnia where random strangers who couldn't understand me and I couldn't understand them picked-up the wheelchair and were willing to carry it wherever we needed it to go. That happened several times with different people and I never asked them for help, but I did thank you (in Bosnian) afterwards.  People in the US, UK, etc. tend to be too self-absorbed and rarely help even when you ask for it. The Bosnians may have fought a bitter war 20 years ago, but it seems that deep-down they are genuinely a kind and helpful people. Most of the time just getting to your destination when travelling with a wheelchair is hard and takes a lot out of you and that was usually the case with my travels. Looking back though I wouldn't have changed a thing as my travels now aren't as fun as they used to be. ^

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Capitalist Communist

From Yahoo:
"Family of Yugoslavia's Tito await news of inheritance"
For 35 years since the death of communist Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, tens of thousands of the extravagant strongman's belongings have been the subject of legal wrangling. This month a Serbian court is finally expected to rule on the inheritance of his huge and eclectic range of possessions, from hunting rifles and paintings to marshal uniforms and even rocks from the moon -- a gift from US president Richard Nixon. During his time at the helm of socialist Yugoslavia from the end of the World War II until his death in 1980, Tito and his wife Jovanka enjoyed a lifestyle that impressed even Hollywood star Richard Burton, who visited the pair in 1971. "They live in remarkable luxury unmatched by anything else I've seen and (I) can well believe Princess Margaret who says the whole business makes Buck House (Buckingham Palace) look pretty middle-class," Burton wrote in his diaries. But today the extent of Tito's assets to be divided up by the court remains unclear, even to relatives who await news of their inheritance: his son Misha, the four children of his late son Zarko and two of the late Jovanka's sisters. "There is no written document in which the court establishes what is to be inherited," Svetlana Broz, one of Zarko's daughters, told AFP. "We do not know what that will be until we receive the ruling," she said.  When Tito died, precipitating the slow and bloody break-up of Yugoslavia, his possessions were estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars. In 1985 a law declared all of his belongings state property -- a ruling that was later annulled after it was challenged by Jovanka, who died in 2013. But a clear division between what Tito owned privately and what he used as the country's top official was never made. Proceedings were slowed down by the 1990s Balkan wars, and some of Tito's property went to countries that emerged after Yugoslavia fell apart. His family also alleges widespread theft in the intervening years. "Fabulously expensive watches, cars, weapons and other treasure disappeared," Jovanka's lawyer Toma Fila wrote in his memoirs  Tito is admired for driving out Nazi German occupying forces in World War II with his partisan fighters, standing up to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and founding the Non-Aligned Movement. He made Yugoslavia one of the most prosperous communist countries, but political dissidents were jailed under his regime and critics denounce his personality cult and lavish lifestyle.
Historian Predrag J. Markovic said the initial lack of decisions from the state over Tito's possessions stemmed from concern that they would damage his communist credentials.  "It was awkward as it was ideologically unacceptable that he and Jovanka had a lot of luxury things," Markovic said. Some 70,000 belongings are now stored in depots at Belgrade's Museum of Yugoslav History, also home to Tito and Jovanka's mausoleum. In one of the depots, Tito's suits and blue-and-white marshal uniforms hang from the ceiling and the shelves are full of model ships and planes, paintings, clocks and rifles -- Tito was a passionate hunter. Among the most striking objects are an abstract ceramic statue, a gift from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin before the two leaders split in 1948, and Nixon's stones from the moon, which were delivered to Tito by astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1969.
^ This is funny and ironic. It's funny because his relatives and distant relatives are fighting over his personal possessions. It's ironic because under Communism everything (even private property) belongs to the state. It reinforces the belief that Communism of any kind can only work on paper and never in practice. Even those once thought to be staunch Communists were Capitalists through and through. It's human nature and will never change. ^

Auschwitz Fixing

From the BBC:
"Auschwitz price-fixing claims: Israel police arrest nine"

Nine executives at Israeli travel agencies have been arrested on suspicion of fixing the price of high school students' trips to former Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz. Police say they are investigating allegations of a secret price-fixing arrangement by companies who organise the trips for students. Investigators have raided the homes of executives and frozen bank accounts. At least six travel agencies are accused of violating competition rules. They are suspected of colluding on prices before responding to an education ministry tender to take students to Holocaust memorials. When the Israeli education ministry approached a number of different companies, it received identical quotes.
Reports say the alleged collusion was aimed at artificially inflating prices.  Thousands of Israeli high school students travel to memorials at World War Two death camps every year. A trip can cost several thousand shekels per student (1,000 shekels is worth £177), according to reports in Israeli media.  The BBC's Kevin Connolly, in Jerusalem, says that for many Israeli high school students a visit to the site of the Nazi death camps in southern Poland is a rite of passage, which gives them a direct sense of connection to the Holocaust - the defining tragedy of modern Jewish history.  If the allegations are proved to be true, our correspondent adds, there will be shock in Israel that a form of tourism that is viewed with great solemnity may have been the subject of illegal business practices. Some six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust, mainly in death camps in Poland. More than a million people, mostly Jews, were killed in Auschwitz alone.
^ This is the same as spitting on the graves of the men, women and children who were murdered during the Holocaust. The fact that it was done by Israelis makes it even worse. Everyone, especially Israelis, should go to a concentration/death camp sometime in their live to see that the horrible crimes they learned about really did happen. It's great that so many Israeli youths make the visit every year. The thought that travel companies are taking advantage of those memorial trips is disgusting. ^

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Crimean Help

From Yahoo:
"Ukraine's Poroshenko seeks EU, US help to get Crimea back"
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Thursday he wanted EU and US help in securing Crimea's return from Russia and vowed to win back the separatist east this year.  The bold announcements by the pro-Western leader came with Poroshenko facing building public pressure to end Ukraine's brutal 20-month campaign against pro-Russian insurgents and simultaneously to stand up to Moscow's annexation of the strategic Black Sea peninsula. Poroshenko provided few details about how exactly he intended to win back Crimea -- a tsarist-era Russian naval base that Moscow annexed just weeks after the ouster of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. He told a wide-ranging press conference that Kiev intended to launch an "international process" aimed at restoring the war-ravaged and economically faltering former Soviet nation's original borders.  "The fight for Crimea's return remains a priority," the 50-year-old political and business veteran said. "It is my profound conviction that the best format for starting this process is the Geneva-plus format that includes our EU and US partners and possibly the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum."  The 1994 document assured Ukraine of Western and Russian protection from foreign invasion in return for scrapping its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal and accession to the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT). The pro-Moscow insurgency in the industrial regions of Lugansk and Donetsk began in April 2014 and was immediately linked to alleged efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep the new Kiev leadership off balance and reliant on Moscow's good will. Putin denies direct involvement in the conflict but also admitted in December that Russia had "people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere". "We have irrefutable evidence from both satellite imagery and video footage captured by our intelligence service showing that the Ukrainian border was crossed by Russia's latest military equipment and armed forces units," Poroshenko said. Months of laborious European-mediated negotiations have failed to bring a complete halt to a war that has now claimed more that 9,000 lives and left some of Ukraine's most important coal mines and steel mills in ruins.  "In 2016, we must also ensure the renewal of Ukraine's sovereignty over the occupied territories of Lugansk and Donetsk," Poroshenko said. A new round of talks between top Moscow and Kiev envoys produced a new ceasefire agreement on Wednesday that appeared to be largely holding on Thursday afternoon. Three Ukrainian soldiers and two pro-Moscow fighters have been reported killed since the start of the year.

^ The EU and US should do a lot more to help the Ukraine and to make Russia return the Crimea to the Ukraine - especially under the 1994 agreement - but the EU has so many internal issues that is leading to its collapse or at least its economic demise as a powerhouse and Obama doesn't have a clue or a backbone to deal with Russia. Russia made all sorts of agreements with the Ukraine once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 (many directing involving the Crimea) and as we have seen Russia has just ripped-up those legal agreements and gone back on its word. The EU and the US should not do the same with the Ukraine and should back its promises with real action. ^

Concentration Resort

From NYP:
"WW 2 Concentration Camp To Become Luxury Resort"

A World War II concentration camp where prisoners were tortured and starved is to be transformed into luxury beach resort with a nightclub and spa. The government of Montenegro, a small Balkan country with rugged mountains, medieval villages and a narrow strip of beaches along its Adriatic coastline, is allowing developers to transform the island into a luxury retreat. The decision has been met with anger from families of those who were imprisoned on Mamula Island while it was occupied by Italian forces under the rule of fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Mamula, which was a 19th century Austro-Hungarian fortress, still has ruins of prison cells where thousands were held and more than 130 were killed or starved. Despite the site’s solemn history, the Montenegrin parliament approved a project from the Swiss-Egyptian company, Orascom, that will build Mamula Resort, according to ANSA. oth the government and Orascom have said that the resort will keep with Mamula’s historical character, though renderings show much of the fortress filled in with a pool deck and sunbathing chairs. Located near Montenegro’s border with Croatia, the circular island is in the Adriatic Sea at the entrance of the Bay of Kotor. The island is called Lastavica, but is popularly known as Mamula. It is dominated by a fort that was built in 1853 under Austro-Hungarian rule to ward off a naval attack.

^ I have been to Montenegro (near where this place is) and I do not think it is a wise decision to turn it into a resort. It should be made into a memorial museum. ^

Russian Netflix

From the MT:
"Netflix's Desire for World Domination Reaches Russia"

China, the world's most populous country, might have slipped through its fingers, but with Russia Netflix in January pocketed the largest country by landmass and the promise of tapping into a booming online market. Netflix's move into Russia, along with 129 other countries, was heralded by its CEO as the "birth of a global TV network."     The streaming giant's formula of offering subscribers online access to box office hit films and series has already taken the United States and much of Europe by storm, where it has more than 70 million users. Its core strategy is simple: First, offer people content they want to watch. Then, make them pay to watch it online. Netflix's prospects in Russia are promising: The country has a culture of television watching and boasts one of the fastest growing Internet audiences in the world.  The announcement of the Russia launch was widely met with enthusiasm both among locals and foreigners living in Russia. One American expat on Twitter compared it to "eating flatbread pizza after fasting for a week." But the euphoria was short-lived and comments on forums and Russian social media websites quickly turned sour. As in many other countries, the interface of the Russian Netflix website — its buttons, directory and messages — are all in English. The service is "uncomfortable" for Russians, said television critic and Rossiiskaya Gazeta journalist Susanna Alperina. More importantly, many of the series available do not offer Russian-language subtitles or dubbing. Even for tech-savvy youth, the language barrier is a major obstacle likely to turn away many of Russia's 84 million Internet users. Netflix's practice of having separate licensing agreements in every country also means it offers less content on the Russian website than on its U.S. counterpart. Whereas the U.S. version has roughly 5,700 movies and television series, the Russian Netflix only offers around 720, the Unofficial Netflix Online Global Search website shows. And then there's the price tag. A monthly Netflix subscription will cost Russians at least 8 euros, or 660 rubles — more than the average Internet bill. It is pricier than Netflix's main Russian rival,, which costs 399 rubles a month and offers free content. With the ruble devaluation and more economic turmoil expected this year, the cost could discourage subscribers. In fact, the only Russia-specific adaptation Netflix appears to have made is to block access to users in Crimea — the peninsula annexed by Russia in March 2014 — in compliance with U.S. regulations restricting American business there. Netflix is selling Russians less content, much of it in a language they don't speak and at a prohibitive price. Hardly a great buy, according to many disappointed Russian fans. "No one wants Netflix the way it is now," programmer Dmitry Alexeyev, 25, said. Netflix did not respond to several requests for comment from the Moscow Times. 
^  Netflix should focus on giving it's customers in the US a good selection and service (both streamlining and DVDs) before it goes around the world. I don't see Netflix succeeding in Russia especially if the movies and shows offered aren't in Russian. The majority of Russians do not speak any foreign language, much less English. It seems that Netflix is getting too big for its britches and should re-evaluate their goals. ^